Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

November 19, 2007

Giving Thanks

A stray letter was found at the post office a few years ago causing much worry and real concern. The letter, addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole,” was not the problem. The date of the postmark—January 2—led to much discussion.

“Santa never answered the poor child’s Christmas letter,” one worker worried.

“I hope the little one hasn’t lost faith in Santa,” said another.

As such letters are, this one was routed to the Chamber of Commerce where a staff was set up to respond. When the letter was opened, everyone in the office was in for quite a surprise. The child, a six-year old boy named Edward, had written not to ask for gifts but to thank Santa for all the presents he received on Christmas Day. The staff was heartened by Edward’s letter.

Being thankful is a basic human response to all the good God has bestowed on us. St. Paul, for example, closed most of his letters with some expression of thankfulness: “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5:18).

Many nations, cultures, and religions have reserved special days in the course of a year to offer thanks for God’s blessings. The Jewish people have two such festivals, one near the spring harvest (Pentecost) and the other in the fall (Tabernacles or Booths) to offer thanks. In the Middle Ages, a thanksgiving day was held in Germany, France, Holland, and England in conjunction with the Feast of St. Martin of Tours on November 11. The day began with Mass and continued with a dance, parade, and huge feast highlighted by the serving of wild goose.

When the pilgrims settled in America, they remembered this day of thanksgiving. They decided to have a three-day feast in the autumn of 1621. There was plenty of food available. The native people brought deer. Lobsters, oysters, and fish were also plentiful. But the pilgrims remembered the goose they had once shared in Europe. According to historical accounts tinged with legend, "Governor Bradford sent four men on a folwing so that we might have a more special manner of rejoicing together.” The hunting party did find a few geese, but also many turkeys and ducks.

Early in our nation’s history, Thanksgiving Day began to be celebrated regularly. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday in November to be a national holiday. It has been celebrated on that day in the United States in all the years since, except for 1939 and 1940 when President Franklin Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving to the third Thursday to allow for more days of Christmas shopping. Public opinion demanded Thanksgiving be returned to its original day.

Thanksgiving is not a holy day of obligation for Catholics, but many Catholics do attend a special family Mass on that day. Many parishes take up a collection of food products to benefit the poor. Some parishes even sponsor complete Thanksgiving meals for the homeless and homebound.

Usually, the Gospel reading for the Thanksgiving Mass is the account, unique to Luke’s gospel, of Jesus’ healing of the ten Samaritan lepers. After the ten had showed themselves to a priest, as Jesus instructed, one former leper returned to Jesus, fell at his feet, and thanked him. Jesus response was: “Where are the other nine?”

We, like the leper and the little boy who received all the Christmas gifts, have been abundantly gifted by God. In our Church, with the celebration of Eucharist (Greek for “thanksgiving”), every day is a day of thanks.

Discussion Questions
• What is your favorite Thanksgiving Day tradition?
• When was a time you were surprised by someone who thanked you for something you did?
• What are you most grateful for?

Additional Lessons
• Share more information on the Jewish autumn feast of Tabernacles or Booths. In Deuteronomy 16:13-15 it is described as a seven-day harvest festival. In Deuteronomy 26:1-11, each person was to offer a basket of harvest fruits while recalling in thanksgiving the saving actions of God.
• Read and discuss in more detail Jesus’ cleansing of the ten lepers (Lk 17:11-19).
• Provide information (considering inviting a guest speaker) about an agency that provides daily meals for the homeless. Share relevant details, including how many people are served, the number of families present, types of food needed, funding for the agency, etc. Encourage the students to volunteer as they are able to to serve the poor and homeless of your community.

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