Thanksgiving is traditionally a day spent relishing food, family and fellowship. Americans observe the holiday in a variety of ways, nestled in front of televisions watching football or parades, salivating over scrumptious meals or perhaps carefully devising shopping strategies. For a few moments, we should each make time to respect the day's true intention, the opportunity to reflect and give thanks.
The Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag Indians observed one of the first Thanksgivings in 1621. Over a harvest feast, they celebrated a year of survival. In 1863 amid a brutal Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln formalized Thanksgiving, declaring it as the final Thursday in November. President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to establish the fourth Thursday in November as the official Thanksgiving date.
This year, Americans have many reasons to give thanks. A long and divisive midterm election finally has ended, and mercifully the barrage of negative mailers and television and radio ads has ceased. In Florida, where voters re-elected Gov. Rick Scott and turned back an attempt to legalize medical marijuana, the tight race for governor reinforced the importance of voting.
The economy continues its slow, solid march back to recovery. This week, the Commerce Department reported stronger than expected gains in third-quarter gross domestic product. Business and nonresidential investments also are increasing, the report said. Separately, companies continue to add jobs, pushing the nation's unemployment rate down to 5.8 percent. In Florida, the unemployment rate stands at 6 percent, a six-year low. But there is room for improvement. Wages haven't budged, and too many Floridians hold low-paying jobs that put a comfortable middle-class life beyond their reach.
Gun violence continues across the country. But sometimes there are silver linings. Quick action by campus police at Florida State University, for example, likely saved lives earlier this month when a shooter opened fire at the library. Hundreds of students studied inside, yet the gunman wounded only three people before being killed by police.
The nation also is making strides toward becoming healthier, as millions of Americans completed their first year with health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. Already, this year's re-enrollment period seems much more efficient than the botched rollout in 2013. And the nation has largely responded responsibly to the threat of Ebola in the United States, setting up policies that seek to protect public health and encourage volunteerism and aid for the West African region that is plagued by the disease.
Some Americans will complain about the rampant consumerism that each year encroaches a little more on a day reserved for giving thanks. That debate and retailers' early grab for consumer dollars show little sign of ebbing. But there are things each of us can control. We can pause, take in the sights and sounds of this day, and fill a few moments with appreciation for food, family and freedom.