Remember Thanksgiving? The national holiday - uniquely American - set aside for us to give thanks for all the blessings of our lives? Today, for many people, the spirit of Thanksgiving is almost lost, with its role of kick-starting the Christmas shopping season. Instead of honoring faith, family and country, Thanksgiving weekend's focus is now often replaced with collecting plenty of bargains (and debt).

This year, I urge you and yours to set aside some time at Thanksgiving to truly count your blessings, beginning with the grace of living in America. Then think about a family plan to give back to your community and world throughout the year.

First, some Thanksgiving history: Did you know that it was a gifted and tenacious American woman who organized the country to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday?

We all remember the story of the "First Thanksgiving" celebrated by the Pilgrims, already diminished by malnutrition, illness and staggering loss of life. With guidance from Native American allies, they learned to cultivate corn. As the first corn harvest proved successful, and Gov. William Bradford organized a three-day celebratory feast to give thanks.

Over the decades, the idea of a day set aside for Thanksgiving continued, but mainly in New England and differing from state to state. It took Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) - a notable writer, magazine editor, advocate of women's education and defender of abolition - to launch the mission to formalize Thanksgiving. For more than 17 years, she wrote editorials and letters to political leaders (including five U.S. presidents) about the legislative need for an official Thanksgiving holiday.

In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was the one who heeded Mrs. Hale's plea with a proclamation that appealed to Americans to ask God "to commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife" and to "heal the wounds of the nation." From that historic time, Thanksgiving was celebrated each November, with President Franklin Roosevelt signing a bill in 1941 further finalizing the national holiday as the fourth Thursday of November.

I encourage you to further study Thanksgiving, including the full story of Sarah Josepha Hale.

Among her many accomplishments, she helped found Vassar College at a time when the idea of an all-female college was still not readily accepted.

Here's another encouragement for mothers and grandmothers during this season of Thanksgiving: Take advantage of the wealth of resources for parents and other adults who want to utilize Thanksgiving as a time to discuss blessings and gratitude. One of my favorites for young children is "The Blessings Jar: A Story About Being Thankful," written by Colleen Coble and illustrated by Rebecca Henry.

Central character Punky Grace has a bad case of the "grumpies." Grammy finds a cure: a big glass jar and a plan to fill it that day with things that remind us of God's blessings. After a few hours of small adventures, the jar is full of "prettiness and happiness" all the way to the top.

A wonderful book for older children is "The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving" by Ellen Sabin. Designed for kids age 6 to 11, the spiral, hardcover book becomes a journal of each child's journey of giving back to their world. This colorful keepsake fosters discussion of the spirit of philanthropy and the power of individual actions. The parent or grandparent providing the book enjoys the journey, too, as they participate and set an example for everyday giving.

"Raising Philanthropic Children," by noted consultant, speaker and writer Carol Weismann, is another book well worth reading. Using real-life stories, the book shows how adults are teaching young people ways to give back to those in need. Those stories then become models to help each family or group develop ideas and activities that promote compassion, generosity and selflessness.

As we now look toward Thanksgiving 2015, I hope you count your blessings and count it a joy to help young lives learn about helping others. Philanthropy - like Thanksgiving - represents America at its best. From all the members of The Women's Fund of Smith County, thanks for giving throughout the year and best wishes for a happy and meaningful Thanksgiving Day.

 

Marty Wiggins serves as director of the ETMC Foundation and the 2015 chairwoman of The Women's Fund of Smith County. Membership in The Women's Fund is open to any women who would like to be a part of this collective giving circle that leverages women's philanthropy as a catalyst for positive change. Visit www.womensfundsc.org for information that includes our outreach, membership application and additional ways to give.

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