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How About a New Tradition for Thanksgiving?

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By Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC (Nov 17, 2017)
In the Church's heritage, there is Tradition and there is tradition: "big T" Tradition and "little t" tradition.

By "big T" Tradition, we refer to divine revelation up through the Apostolic Age, including that part of God's revealed word that's not contained in Sacred Scripture. By "little t" tradition, we refer to customs passed down through families, cultures, and nations.

This November, I'd like to look at the opportunities ahead to embrace a few "little t" traditions and how they can uphold that "big T" Tradition.

Let's set the table, so to speak, to discuss the spiritual opportunities before us on Thanksgiving Day, celebrated each year on the fourth Thursday of November. (This year, it's Nov. 23.)

Of course, Thanksgiving is a civil holiday, but it's also our nation's only civil holiday that specifically and officially calls for prayer. At the request of Congress, President George Washington recommended Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789, "as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God," thus marking the first observance.

Thanksgiving Day eventually became an annual observance whereby we are called to acknowledge God's Providence and express our nation's dependence on His bounty. (And also to watch football and stuff our faces with turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, etc.)

Just before digging in to dinner, a lot of families have a tradition of going around the table and having everyone each mention something they are thankful for from the past year. But here's a slightly different take. How about we consider adopting a similar tradition I have long admired: going around the table and having each person mention someone for whom they are thankful who is no longer with us? Then we can share why we feel a sense of indebtedness to them. These can be family members, friends, coaches, teachers, doctors, nurses, or even famous people. They are those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. They imparted to us wisdom, guidance, and love. Though they're no longer physically with us, we are thankful for their memory. Here's an opportunity to call to mind those who have died, to help paint the picture of who they were and what they meant to us.

And after we've gone around the table, we can then join in prayer for their eternal repose, perhaps praying an Our Father or Hail Mary. Then, well, we say grace and chow down, right?

Yes, but I'd like to suggest another tradition to bring to the dinner conversation. Once we're eating, how about a guided conversation on Thanksgivings past, maybe even Thanksgivings from the days before half the people in the room were even born? For instance, is there a particular dish that the late Aunt Sally was famous for that became family tradition?

Remember, just as our predecessors handed on the faith to us, we, too, have a responsibility to hand on the faith to those who come after us. That entails helping them to see the importance of praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory who made the sacrifices so that we might have the faith in our day. In our efforts to encourage the younger generation to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, we should seize every opportunity to make the dearly departed "real" in the minds of those who may never have known them. Recalling past holidays is one way of doing so.

Here's one more suggestion: Since it's November, the month the Church dedicates to remembering the Holy Souls in Purgatory, how about guiding the conversation to certain saints to whom we have a particular devotion? That way we're thankful not only for the people we know who went before us marked with the faith, but also people who have guided us in our spiritual development and whom we know to be in Heaven. Maybe we've grown thankful for St. Anthony because we're always misplacing things and we believe he helps us keep track of our worldly possessions. Or we're thankful for St. Faustina, who helps guide us in our call to humility and holiness.

Yes, the saints make for great dinner conversation, particularly a dinner centered on our indebtedness to God. They are those shining examples of Christian love who lead us into a deeper sense of piety, which is love of God, and a deeper sense of service, which is love of others.

There's one more opportunity to underscore the "Big T" Tradition before this meal wraps up. Since Thanksgiving Day is typically followed by Black Friday, the kick-off to the holiday shopping season, perhaps provide a gentle reminder to those around the table that the tradition of gift-giving at Christmastime stems from our remembrance of the finest gift we received on Christmas Day: Christ Jesus.

I have a pretty good feeling that if you keep the "Big T" Tradition as the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving meal, you'll get your just desserts.

Father Dan Cambra, MIC, is the spiritual director of the Holy Souls Sodality.

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Elizabeth - Nov 18, 2017

Thanks Father Cambra for your insight about the feast of Thanksgiving. What a great food for thought!