Thanksgiving rarely is more meaningful than at times when prosperity is threatened. People tend to forget to count blessing during periods of plenty. But when they eventually stop to do so in times of distress, they can be overwhelmed by how deep and broad their list of blessings runs. First they turn inward, then they turn outward.
That has been the essence of this holiday from the beginning. Thanksgiving is an annual reminder that all human beings walk the same road, and that they need to rely on each other and God. It is a reminder that the nation's heritage draws its strength from gratitude and humility, not selfishness or greed.
Times today are not so bad. Utahns may be rattled by the approaching drumbeat of economic woe, but unemployment here remains low. That may change, of course. The state is hardly immune from the forces that seem to be moving from Wall Street to Main Street and beyond. Already, there are signs that business is slowing. In that sense, some would draw parallels to 1929, when Thanksgiving came after an autumn of extreme trouble in financial markets yet the Depression, with its 25 percent unemployment, was still in the future.
Of course, no one knows what the future holds for this generation. The economy may surprise the experts and recover impressively during the next year. And yet it may be instructive to look at what writers on this page said on this holiday back then. It should come as no surprise that the editorial board wrote in a spirit of gratitude.
"The least fortunate of us today, if he will but think a moment, will confess that he has more to be thankful for than to repine over," that day's editorial began. "Things might always be worse than they are. In any event, all of us are better off than others we can think of; we all have acquaintances or associates whose situation is not so good as our own.
"But this is only the narrow and negative way of looking at it. The correct way is to reflect, not on how little we have to be sorry for but how much we have to be glad for. And truly this latter makes a long category."
That attitude has become a rich American tradition this time of year. Abraham Lincoln set the proper tone for it in the middle of the carnage of Civil War when he issued a proclamation calling for a thanksgiving observance. "The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies," he wrote, adding that the people enjoyed so many blessings "that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God."
Some today might say he was delusional, or that he was cruelly insensitive to the plight of so many who had suffered losses. He was neither. A spirit of gratitude causes people to want to reach out and help those less fortunate. It is a spirit of action, not smugness.
It is the spirit we hope all people will cultivate today as they sit at tables of plenty and ponder their blessings.