I don’t imagine many people know the words to the New England Thanksgiving song, “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go.” It is an old song and speaks to a more traditional time when Thanksgiving was all about pilgrims and Native Indians and a huge turkey that had given its life for the holidays. Nowadays that song doesn’t fit our traditions and especially one like Thanksgiving, the understanding of which has almost disappeared. Thanksgiving is a secular holiday established by President Abraham Lincoln to give thanks for the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, a decisive victory that led to the Union Army finally winning the Civil War in 1865.
If the meal is served with everyone sitting around the table, there may come that uncomfortable moment when someone says, “Let’s everyone tell what we are thankful for today.” And everyone’s mind starts to fly around trying to find something that doesn’t sound too naive or vague to say.
The purpose of Thanksgiving is not to give us a day off to do our Black Friday shopping nor is it the doorway to the Christmas season. Thanksgiving should be a year long state of mind. “An attitude of gratitude.” People will best celebrate thanksgiving when fear is gone from their lives. We can list those fears easily because we all know them in our own lives. You might think of the Four Freedoms President Franklin Roosevelt spoke about in his first inaugural address when the nation was scared out of its wits by the Great Economic Depression and the dust bowl growing in the midwest. Freedom from want; freedom from fear; freedom of free speech; and freedom of faith. To be thankful people, people need to feel secure in their homes, and security comes from knowing you are loved, safe and cared for everyday and that is a great deal more than a family gathering, a big turkey, and watching football games and eating the leftovers from dinner.
As a people and as a nation we need to cultivate thanksgiving. Is life perfect? No, it never is, but right now there are far too many people who preach fear and want to establish authority and repression on those who are weaker making the matter worse. There are too many people who want to see the world as they think it should be before they can be thankful. To be people who are full of gratitude we must reach out to those who have less economically, those who are searching for justice, for the right to vote freely and a place to live without fear. We must love our spouses and children allowing them to be free within the security of that love.
St. Paul the apostle, writing to the Christians at Philippi, says: (Philippians 4:4-7)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
We have so much to be thankful for. Just begin with the breath of life, the next beat of your heart, and the fact that life is good all the time.
Journals and diaries are always fascinating to read. In the 19th century it was what every one of some education did and the results for us to today tell us so much about the time and place when it was written. I wrote the following in 1975, when I was 27 years old, on a six week trip to Europe. We were about half way through the trip. With Italy and France yet to come. About 10-15 years later I learned about trains in India and the bullet train in Japan. Wonderful experiences. But this was my first and thus unique. . .
I have to say a word about European train depots. Of course I am no expert, but in 26 days I have viewed stations from Bergen, Norway to Vienna, Austria, so I feel I can speak with some limited expertise. First the trains: my image of European trains has always had two frames, the first is French soldiers hanging out of open windows as their trains pulled into Paris (in America train windows do not open). My second frame shows a grand duchess of 1930 vintage sitting in a compartment with approximately 6 seats, green cushions and sliding doors (in America it is considered ideal to mash all of Middle America into one car which contains smokers and gagging non-smokers). So I love opening the windows and feeling and smelling the air as it rushes into my face and hair. One is more aware of the land than caged between two sets of heavy, shaded glass. The compartments, especially first class are luxurious. I enjoy reclining in my seat, eating meals from a basket of surprises or writing ten post cards on a small arm table as the green hills of one country after another slide past. A difference in first and second class allows those who wish to make a sizable to save money by providing compartments or cars with slightly less comfortable conditions. Smokers and non-smokers are also given a preference. When the nights are long, curtains or shades hide the sun allowing more hours of rest.
Second, but only by listing, not by importance, are the stations. Small cities within cities they run from late to early or early to late, whenever your train arrives. Most shops, Information and exchange centers are open to 8 or 9 p.m. some to 12 and then re-open by 6, 7, or 8 a.m. The types of shops available are endless, but most popular are the food shops (Coke, FANTA, fruit, candy and bakery) and the book or news shops. The larger stations, like Oslo, usually have International shops where English, French, German, or native tongue books are available. Of course for Americans, an English newspaper is a scarce, but welcome commodity. Other shops handle tobacco and souvenirs; hair salons, drug stores, flower shops, and boutiques.Restaurants and cafeterias are also in abundance along with an occasional post office and the usual train necessities
Third, are the people. As Walt Whitman commented, “Ah! The people!” The cross section of humanity is as fast moving as blinking your eyes or turning your head in the opposite direction. One moment you are discussing room costs with a young boy from Bremen and the next you are helping a Japanese with a backpack who speaks only English in a German-speaking country. There are students with long hair, blue jeans, T-shirts and backpacks with the flag of their country sewn on — U.S., Canadian, Swede — take your pick. They there are couples who dress at the hight of fashion. Young men in smartly tailored white suit escort young girls with below the knee dresses, platform shoes, and carefully manicured nails. But serving as the background to all of this are the grandmothers in kerchiefs and black scarves and short round-faced old men in lederhosen and Tyrolean hats, or whatever else the custom of the country allows. There are dark complexioned children with big, round brown eyes, contemplating you with a deeply thoughtful stare; there are grandmothers with back packs and groups of chattering women. Always there are the silent people, sitting with downcast eyes or brows set in a deep frown.
European trains are three American school teachers sharing a compartment with two young Swedish boys (one of whom has hustled and captivated a young French girl) riding an Austrian train bound for Italy.