McKean Minute: How About National Gratitude Day?

Did you make it through Independence Day? Sunburned, sweaty, angry, and scared. Those adjectives probably define most of us in this national Summer of Discontent.

This year’s July 4 recognition was marked by heavy strains of patriotism, sure, but also another kind of strain – one that questions if the freedoms articulated in the Declaration of Independence 244 years ago extend to all Americans now. I, for one, welcome these reconsiderations of our traditions and beliefs, because I think the idea of America can endure beyond the iconography of America.

But celebrating Independence Day for me isn’t about recognizing our military might or our (diminishing) role of leader of the free world. Instead, it’s about recalling the audacious statements of the Declaration of Independence and the idea that all people are born free, and that institutions exist to celebrate and defend that freedom, not quench it.

But that’s not why I’m writing today. I’m preparing you for another national holiday whose reconsideration is long overdue. It’s Thanksgiving, and while I know it’s months in the future, I want to propose a way to square it with history, to make it widely celebrated, and to allow it to serve a purpose that’s been diluted by commercialism.

I propose we make a minor edit to the proper name of this holiday, changing Thanksgiving to Thanks Giving. It may seem inconsequential, but it would allow our November holiday to finally deliver the call to action that was intended. It would be a national day of gratitude in which we—individually and collectively—come together over this most human of impulses, to give thanks. Sure, it might still have all the trappings that have made it our national day of turkey-and-gravy consumption, and a good excuse for Thursday NFL games, but it would remind us that this is ultimately a day to remember all the good in our lives, and to thank those responsible for it.

It would also get away from the most problematic part of our current Thanksgiving, this historical lie that Native Americans were welcome hosts to their demise. The truth is much more complicated, and while I love the parts of Thanksgiving that pay homage to our collective history and heritage, if the Fourth of July can be denigrated as being oppressive, then surely the future of Thanksgiving is just as fragile. In fact, as we tear apart whole foundations of our national identity, preserving an opportunity to unite is more important than ever.

There will be calls to abolish Thanksgiving, but it would be a shame to do away with the holiday all together. Every American is in sore need of pausing a moment in gratitude to thank all the people who have created this nation, who have built our cities and homes, who deliver food and nurse our sick, who fight fires and wear uniforms of service, who keep the lights on and the roads plowed. Sure, we have our differences, but the one unifying force for good in the world is our ability to thank each other. I would hate to lose a chance to recognize that, and to throw aside a vital national holiday as a symbol of oppression.

Thanks Giving is not about that. It’s about convening around the things we have in common: our ability to say thank you to those who have improved our lives and our communities.

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