Vail Valley Voices: Don’t skip over Thanksgiving holiday |

Vail Valley Voices: Don’t skip over Thanksgiving holiday

Jack R. Van Ens
Vail, CO, Colorado

After visiting a used-book store before Halloween, I got spooked by the business next door. Scary jack-o’-lanterns stacked like a pyramid framed the front doors.

Walking down the avenue, I passed a flower shop’s window. Yuletide greens framed the glass, so densely hung that customers had a tough time spying bouquets inside.

What was missing on this walk? Nowhere was there a hint of Thanksgiving Day. Merchants dress their stores for financial success, first with Halloween tomfoolery and then leapfrogging to Christmas decorations. Why don’t they make time for the grateful spirit celebrated on Thanksgiving Day?

Grooming a thankful spirit finds its roots in remembering, the Apostle Paul taught. To friends in Philippi, he wrote, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,” Philippians 1:3.

Most Americans are conditioned to reject this conviction that gratitude is tied to remembering the past. We easily dismiss the past as irrelevant, hard to understand and crammed with dry-as-dust history.

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Consequently, some avoid reading history books because they claim to be riveted to what’s happening now.

“Whenever someone says, ‘I’m not book smart. I’m street-smart,'” comedienne Gwen Gesiner quipped, “all I hear is ‘I’m not real smart. I’m imaginary smart.'”

We assume gratitude swells when we count our apples and oranges. If we harvest more financial fruit this year compared with last, we tell friends the man upstairs is a swell guy.

Or we hook gratitude to the future. Lean times may badger us today, but heavenly blessings are promised tomorrow. We might trudge on a narrow, impoverished path, but the Yellow Brick Road lies just over the rainbow. Expectations feed our appetite for gratitude.

Hitching gratitude to the past doesn’t seem very appealing. The Pilgrims appear straight-laced, ornery, rather judgmental folk. Not heroes we adore. No wonder we leapfrog as a culture over Thanksgiving Day. Wizards and witches pounce upon our imaginations and whisk us away to mystical memories. Christmas filled with angels and everything full of spice makes us swoon with cozy memories. Why stop and remember on Thanksgiving Day when Halloween and Christmas are more fun? Let’s bypass, avoid, circumvent – yes – leapfrog over Thanksgiving.

Before Halloween, my wife and I visited the Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library in Springfield, Ill. This is hallowed ground where Honest Abe lived before becoming president. With stunning interactive sights and sounds, this museum records past events in Lincoln’s life that steeled his soul to face an uncertain future.

Inscribed on the museum wall is an ironic testimony. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke it from a wheelchair, his legs crippled by polio. FDR couldn’t leap like a bullfrog. Yet his spirit soared because he honored the past as the source of our national gratitude.

Roosevelt declared, “To bring together the records of the past and to house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men and women in the future, a nation must believe in three things.

“It must believe in the past. It must believe in the future. It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain judgment in creating their own future.”

When we don’t honor the past, what keeps us from acting like a witch on her broom or an angel on an arc of light and run right by Thanksgiving Day?

Looking back on acquaintances who have died revives a grateful spirit. On Thanksgiving Day, I steal away precious moments to reflect on lives that have influenced me for the good. Folks such as Bill, Rod, Maurice, Laurie and Gary, who died in 2009. Their past isn’t dead, though. It’s revived in the best they’ve implanted within me.

Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the English poet and critic, honored friends who “guard, excite and elevate one’s virtues.”

Halloween’s too ghoulish and noisy to reflect on those who have died. Christmas gets us too excited to be pensive.

But Thanksgiving Day fits just right, like some broken-in slippers. It’s a time to survey the past and laud those whose lives have made us more humane, cultivated and hopeful.

Catching the spirit of gratitude, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) wrote in “Memories of Childhood and Youth” how past lives enlivened the present and encouraged us for the future. He didn’t leapfrog over the past but burrowed into it.

“I always think that we all live, spiritually, by what others have given us in the significant hours of our life,” Schweitzer mused. “Nor do they make a great show of themselves; they pass almost unperceived. Often, indeed, their significance comes home to us first as we look back, just as the beauty of a piece of music or of a landscape often strikes us in our first recollection of it.”

May we linger with, not leapfrog over, Thanksgiving Day.

The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which aims to enhance Christian worship through lively storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.

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