Do you know why Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday? Because since 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln first declared it a national holiday, no robber baron or swindler has figured out a way to commercialize Thanksgiving. No expensive gift purchases required, no credit-card debt incurred, no fancy costumes to be paid for, no semi-mandatory and painful hangover the next morning.
Thanksgiving belongs to everybody. It is not the property of any one religion or faith tradition. You need not belong to any particular religion — or any religion — to celebrate fully.
Even with the nation’s economy in tatters and millions among us suffering the pain of forced unemployment, there are still reasons in 2009 to be thankful. Here are just a few things that make me grateful:
» That I’ll be at one of the 94 percent of Thanksgiving dinner tables that includes cranberry sauce on their menus.
» For the E-Z Pass that makes paying turnpike tolls a breeze.
» For Labrador retriever dogs that teach us humans true genuine affection and unqualified warmth.
» For the fact that in 1934, the Detroit Lions professional football team began playing a home game on Thanksgiving Day, a tradition that continues to this day on national television and (even though the Lions have won only one game all season) fills the conversational void that follows some in-law’s assertion of “proof” that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya or, maybe, Kuwait.
» That I’m no longer sitting at the “kids table” on a folding chair.
I am thankful to enjoy the splendid work of actress Julianna Margulies (in the superb CBS weekly series “The Good Wife”) and the wonderful work of talented actors David Morse and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
I’m even thankful that in 1924, Macy’s sponsored its first Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City and dared to add helium balloons three years later.
I’m grateful that it’s highly unlikely that anybody with whom I’m sharing Thanksgiving dinner will begin his or her answer to a question with what has become this year’s irritatingly pervasive opening line: “Look …” Nor, I’m happy to predict, will any of the guests resort to the rudely dismissive conversation-killer, “Whatever.”
I am grateful for the inspiration and the professional excellence of the underpaid and overworked women who taught me in my first four grades of school: Miss (not Ms.) Helen Galvin, Miss Mary Harrington (on whom I had my first romantic crush and who broke my 7-year-old heart by saying she would “wait” for me), Miss Margaret Donahue and Miss Alice Keohane.
I’m thankful for the matchless friendship of the late John Reilly, who taught me how to deal with the snobbish gatekeeper’s challenge, “Can I tell Mr./Ms. (Important Person) the subject of your call?” Reilly’s most effective retorts: “Certainly, I’m calling about the alimony agreement” or “Yes, I have the final laboratory reports on the blood test.”
I am grateful that our federal government acted to rescue the Great Lakes from the death sentence of terminal pollution and to restore them to the magnificent gift they were from a Generous Father. Grateful, too, that my grandchildren’s lives and lungs will be healthier and happier because our government acted to remove 99 percent of the lead from the nation’s air.
I am thankful that you, Gentle Reader, have taken the time to read all the way to the end of this piece. Happy Thanksgiving.
— Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.