Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Holocaust, once said, "No one is as
gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night." Few, if
any, of us
ever will experience the sort of horrifying night that Wiesel
endured. But our
current atmosphere of job losses, home foreclosures and liquidation
savings has left us with a pervasive sense of fear.
Caught up in the immediacy of our economic woes, many of us may find
— the central virtue in the Thanksgiving holiday we celebrate today
to muster. In this context, Wiesel's words remind us of an important
about our human condition: There is something about scarcity and
forces us to focus on what we have, rather than what we have lost.
Our Pilgrim forebears knew that truth well. After a harrowing first
year in the
New World, they viewed their Thanksgiving celebration not as an
excuse to revel
in the guarantee of unlimited prosperity but as an opportunity to
thank God for
survival even in the lean times.
Thanksgiving is a feast forged in adversity. President George
call for a "day of public thanksgiving and prayer" came on the heels
hard-fought Revolutionary War that resulted in mass casualties and
for our new nation. His Thanksgiving proclamation expressed
gratitude for God's
"favorable interpositions" in securing our freedom and subsequent
but he did not make our new tradition contingent on uninterrupted
Instead, Washington beseeched God to "grant unto all mankind such a
temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best."
President Abraham Lincoln revived the Thanksgiving tradition in 1863
similarly harsh circumstances. Written during a brutal Civil War,
Thanksgiving proclamation acknowledged the war's tremendous toll but
God for other ills America had escaped: famine, foreign invasions,
the rule of law and a population plunge. "No human counsel hath
hath any mortal hand worked out these great things," Lincoln wrote.
the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us
for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."
Today, as unprecedented affluence has redefined the concept of
beyond recognition, Thanksgiving often seems to be a mere prelude to
Friday's shop-til-you-drop madness. The very concept of contented
runs counter to the covetousness that drives our consumer culture.
Yet this year's economic turmoil may give gratitude a chance for a
Forced to content ourselves with fewer extravagances — the American
Group reports that Americans plan to spend nearly 50 percent less on
gifts than we planned to spend last year — we may find more impetus
gifts that money cannot buy.
One of those gifts is the faith in God's providence that undergirds
Thanksgiving tradition. A recent poll on the Faithbook page of
that 28 percent of respondents have prayed more because of the
downturn, and 42 percent have experienced a positive effect from
the economic downturn.
Another upshot of tough times may be increased compassion for the
among us. An October survey for World Vision found that while most
plan to spend less on presents, about half say they are more likely
to give a charitable gift as a holiday present.
A host of dismal numbers compete for our attention these days:
incomes, sinking stock prices and shrinking bottom lines. Our
tradition of Thanksgiving invites us to put those grim numbers aside
for a day
and focus on what author Eric Hoffer called "the hardest arithmetic
to master .
. . that which enables us to count our blessings."
Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and
Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her