Thankfulness is a national virtue

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Who gave thanks first? The Encyclopedia Americana says, “The earliest harvest thanksgiving in American was held by the Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth Colony in 1621.”

Thanksgiving is defined as “a formal, often public, expression of thanks to God in the form of a prayer …”

Without question, our national holiday we call Thanksgiving Day had it roots in the example of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts. But was it the first?

In April 1598, Juan de Oñate’s expedition crossed the Rio Grande about 25 miles southeast of El Paso, at San Elizario, Texas. There was much celebration and thanksgiving for they had water for the animals and the people.

Later in May of that same year, they crossed the Rio Grande again after a 90 mile trek across the dry, sandy Jornada del Muerto. Again they found water and help from the Piro people living here. Their recognition of divine help in time of need is expressed in the name they gave to our community, Socorro.

Our thanksgivings preceded the one in Massachusetts, but they haven’t received national recognition. Nevertheless, there are some important similarities. In each case, people exhausted and hungry from traveling gave thanks to God for the food and water that sustained them.

In each case, these people were coming to this land for opportunities. They were willing to leave the familiarity of their former land, their relatives and friends and embark on a long, uncertain and dangerous journey for the opportunity of something better.

It is the hope of opportunities that has inspired millions and millions of people through the last four centuries to take great risks to come to this country. Some came looking for the opportunity to worship God without interference, some saw an opportunity to own land and some sought the freedom to determine their destiny for themselves and their children.

That hope motivated these people to work hard, endure deprivation and forego ordinary comforts. They recognized God’s merciful hand when they received help to continue their pursuit, and they gave thanks.

If our children are to appreciate and strive for their own opportunities, they need to recognize what they already have and give thanks to God for their ancestors and their sacrifices. Thankfulness must be taught by parents and grandparents. Saying thanks to another person is not something that comes naturally. It must be taught to our children when they are young. Children start out expecting that when they cry or ask for something that it will be given to them. And during their first two years, everything they need is given to them. Then gradually, they must come to realize that there are certain things they must do for themselves.

And when people give them things that they did not earn, they should show gratitude and say thanks to that person. It takes time for children to learn to thank those who have helped them or given them something.

The child who says “I really like my new bike” is expressing his own emotions, but it is not an expression of thankfulness to the person who gave it to him.

The person who does not learn to say thanks to the giver is liable to think he or she deserves special treatment and is not likely to work for and earn what he or she desires.