An Amache Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a “civil” holiday. Thanksgiving Day has its roots in the survival of early European settlers in a new land. George Washington declared the first national Thanksgiving in 1789 after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Sara Josepha Hale, author of Mary Had a Little Lamb fought for 36 years from 1827 to 1863 to establish Thanksgiving as an annual national holiday. Finally, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War, declared Thanksgiving a national holiday on the final Thursday of November (just two weeks after he gave the Gettysburg Address).
It is a holiday of sometimes dubious practices. In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in “an attempt to spur retail sales” after the Great Depression. Today, retailers have converted a holiday of family and feasts into a holiday of shopping and consumption. I have been known to overeat and have been doing so for over half a century. I enjoy watching football, even when the games are not very good. I do my utmost to never shop on Black Friday.
A few years ago, I first visited the Camp Amache, or officially the Granada Relocation Center near Lamar, Colorado for Japanese Americans during World War II. At the entrance of Camp Amache, they have several reproductions of newspapers from the camp. One of the first editions had a front-page story about Thanksgiving entitled “Why Thanks?”. As I read this story from November 1942, I tried to imagine these Japanese detainees being asked to be thankful in Granada, CO. Most of these detainees came from the Los Angeles area (as I write this, it is 8 degrees outside in Colorado, in Los Angeles, it is 65 degrees). They were forced out of their homes, left their belongings, and put behind a barbed wire fence. In spite of their difficult circumstances, they celebrated Thanksgiving, an American holiday.
As Chris and I celebrate Thanksgiving with family in Texas, I am reminded that not everyone has that option. Some people will be diagnosed with cancer. Our next door neighbors lost both of their fathers on the same day one week ago. We will see many stories of homeless people being fed a feast on Thanksgiving, but there are 364 other days. Many of these suffer from mental illness that cause them to fear those people who would help them. Our world has been shaken by terrorist attacks. We see images of thousands of refugees from Syria seeking a place to live. As a nation, we struggle with how we are to deal with refugees and immigrants.
In 1863, President Lincoln decided that in spite of the circumstances, America should give thanks. In 1942, the residents of Camp Amache, in spite of circumstances, decided that they too should give thanks.
This year, we give thanks. As followers of Jesus, we are called on to rejoice, to give thanks. We will gather as churches and families to remember that while this has been a national holiday for over a hundred years, the practice of giving thanks goes back to the very roots of our faith. We are a thankful people, regardless of circumstances. At the Last Supper, Jesus broke bread and gave thanks. We are reminded that our thanks does not come from our “blessings” but from being the “blessed people of God.”
I don’t know your circumstances this Thanksgiving, but I hope that whether you have had a blessed year or year of trials and sorrows, you can find a way to give thanks.
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:11-14 NRSV)
Lord, in the midst of this season of family, feasts, and football, may we, your children, give thanks with a grateful heart. May we, care for those who are hurting and alone. Let us remember you in the midst of everything else.
Ministry and Mission Coach