It's the most American of holidays.
Thanksgiving Day goes back to the Plymouth Plantation in 1621 when three Indian chiefs joined newly arrived colonists to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and for simply being alive to enjoy it.
George Washington, in 1789, set aside November 26 as “a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer…to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday in 1863.
But generations of ordinary Americans have affirmed the wisdom of these revered leaders of yesterday. We have made Thanksgiving a remarkable holiday that brings families together and affirms the deepest values of our lives. Thanksgiving is truly a time when we forget our troubles and embrace our families and friends. It is the warmest of holidays.
This is a particularly tough time to be celebrating.
The economic troubles that beset the nation in the fall of 2008 make the future look gloomy indeed. More than a million New Yorkers are in need of food stamps, a 23 percent increase since 2004. Indeed the need has gone up by 10 percent in this year alone. Congressman Anthony Weiner calls the increase in families needing food stamps alarming.
Recent news that city officials have ordered 22 churches to stop providing beds for homeless people is enraging.
The churches must now obey a rule to be open five days a week or not at all. And City Hall says there are plenty of beds in city shelters in which the homeless can sleep. Anyone who has heard horror stories from those who camp out on church steps in the winter know that many of these frail people are frightened of being ripped off when they sleep on a cot in a cavernous shelter. They have been robbed of shoes and other belongings. They prefer the cold to the insecurity of a shelter.
And, speaking of insecurity, the government bureaucracy in Washington doesn't like using the word hunger to describe the approximately 35 million Americans who, advocates say, don't have enough to eat. Rather than describing these people as victims of hunger, the government favors the term ''food insecurity.''
On this Thanksgiving, even if we're fortunate enough to have a warm family gathering to go to, even if we are truly thankful for what we have, it's impossible to forget those who are literally or figuratively left out in the cold.
We can give thanks for what we have even as we try to help the less fortunate and hope that our new government in Washington will stop referring to the hungry as ''food insecure.''
There's a lovely poem that many us associate with this most blessed of holidays:
“Over the river and through the wood
To Grandmother's house we go.
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh
Through white and drifted snow.
Over the river and through the wood
Oh, how the wind does blow.”
Thanksgiving, 2008 -- may all of us find things to be thankful for.