Holidays matter a great deal to me. I am deeply and spiritually moved by Easter and Christmas. Memorial Day brings bittersweet memories, and St. Patrick's Day a headache. I even enjoy the underappreciated "Talk like a Pirate Day" that rolls around every September. My love for Thanksgiving, though, comes in large measure from my time as a soldier in the regular Army.
The first official Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln in the autumn of 1863. Less than a year had passed since the terrible battles of Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Antietam. Each of these struggles claimed the lives of more American soldiers than have been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
It was a terrible time. To surviving comrades, Lincoln's proclamation meant something grand. The traditional harvest celebration solemnized the gift of liberty. That was not the only proclamation of 1863, which brought also emancipation and with it the formal recognition in this nation of God's gift of freedom to us all.
In my eight years in the regular army, I served in an infantry regiment that traced its lineage to each of these great battles. For us of the 7th Infantry, Thanksgiving was a special time. The officers donned their dress blue uniforms and spent the day in the mess hall with our soldiers and families. An abundant and richly appointed meal was served (not always the norm in the infantry). The mess hall buzzed with the scampering feet of small children and the imposing presence of ancient retirees. Old soldiers, chests ablaze with ribbons from Sicily and Normandy, sat with teenagers just weeks out of basic training.
The colonel bought wine for us all. Serving the wine was a job reserved for officers. We took turns, with the most recently arriving officer assuming duties from the officer of the day, who commenced the pouring at noon. Colonels filled the glass of privates, and captains of sergeants. It was a day richly enjoyed by all. It was the only holiday our band of brothers spent together.
I also spent a Thanksgiving at war. We had neither wine nor blue uniforms, nor tents nor tables, but in my memory at least, the food was spectacular (even if heavily salted by blowing sand). All other rituals were observed.
Thanksgiving 2008 is not without its worries, economic and otherwise. I will be missing, among others, my brother who serves in Iraq. However, I am certain that the things for which Lincoln proclaimed a Thanksgiving are more alive and well today than ever before. And, they remain, above all other worldly things, worthy of thanksgiving.
Hicks is director of the Bureau of Business Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.