It is of course right and proper to keep Christ in Christmas, but can it be right and proper to introduce the saints into Thanksgiving? Isn’t Thanksgiving a secular holiday, as oxymoronic as that might seem? And even were we to concede that Thanksgiving had a religious origin, wasn’t it very much of Protestant origin; and not merely of Protestant origin but of specifically Puritan origin? Surely there’s no room for saints on this particular date in the calendar, any more than there was any room for the calendar of the saints in the lives of the Pilgrim Fathers?
Perhaps, were we to argue the point, we could claim, quite correctly, that the Pilgrim Fathers, as Englishmen, were merely carrying on the ancient tradition of the harvest festival, in which thanks were given for the year’s harvest in Catholic churches up and down the length of the country, and up and down the length of the centuries, dating back to the dawn of Christianity itself – and beyond. This is, however, not the point of the argument. The point is that saints belong in the Thanksgiving celebrations because it is the saints who show us best how to give thanks.
The saints didn’t simply give thanks on the one day assigned to it each year, they lived their whole lives, and every day of their lives, year round, in thanksgiving. It is this vision of the giving of thanks which Catholics should have at the forefront of their minds this Thanksgiving, and every Thanksgiving, and every single day between this Thanksgiving and the next. This spirit of gratitude was encapsulated in the words of G. K. Chesterton, a saintly man who is not yet in the canon of saints:
I thank thee, O Lord, for the stones in the street
I thank thee for the hay-carts yonder and for the houses built and half-built
That fly past me as I stride.
But most of all for the great wind in my nostrils
As if thine own nostrils were close.
In his autobiography Chesterton explains how gratitude saved him from the grip of the despair of philosophical pessimism. “I hung on to the remains of religion by one thin thread of thanks,” he writes. “I thanked whatever gods might be, not like Swinburne, because no life lived for ever, but because any life lived at all; not, like Henley for my unconquerable soul (for I have never been so optimistic about my own soul as all that) but for my own soul and my own body, even if they could be conquered.”