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Thanks giving must become India’s cultural ethos

Let us listen to President John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic President of USA who wrote in November 1962: “It is fitting that we give our thanks for the safety of our land, for the fertility of our harvests, for the strength of our liberties, for the health of our people. We do so in no spirit of self-righteousness.”

Thanks giving must become India’s cultural ethos

By Joe Palathunkal
India is very backward in giving thanks but instead we keep on glorifying our past based on what our fore-parents have done or as we think they have done and appropriate and arrogate the credit to ourselves instead of being grateful to them. But in USA it is different, they give thanks to God for what their fore-parents have done in the past and for all the blessings they received from God the heavenly Father.

President Trump attending a Thanksgiving service in a church

On the fourth Thursday of November it is a national holiday in the US as the Thanks Giving Day and in 2018 it is on November 22 and it is a celebration week in the whole country.

The first thanks giving in the USA was conducted by the Spaniards and the French in the 16th century and it was there in an on and off basis till 1789 with a proclamation by George Washington but it became permanent and a federal holiday in 1863 with a proclamation from Abraham Lincoln: "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens," must be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. Thus it became part of the broader holiday season along with Christmas and the New Year.

Abraham Lincoln

I think USA became the most prosperous and the freest nation because of this attitude of gratitude which gives the spirit of going ahead together with all which is very much absent in India. If India can develop this attitude of gratitude, it will not be a country where millions will go hungry as the latest report showing India ranking 113 in hunger out of 119 nations. In my opinion the reasons for not developing an attitude of gratitude are the following.

Casteism: Caste thinking makes you incapable of feeling gratitude. Anyway you are born into a caste and what you do and how you live all are predetermined and therefore there is nobody to be grateful to and for; the reverse is also true.

The work is determined by caste and therefore for what you are compelled to do by birth, you don’t deserve any gratitude, not even payment. Whatever arguments 21st century Indians may put forward against casteism, the fact is, we are still terribly casteist in the core of our thinking.

Servitude: Though we go eloquent about our freedom struggle on every August 15, as a people servitude is very much part of the Indian cultural ethos and therefore, a Constitution that vouches by freedom does not make much dent in the Indian psyche, and a slave never expects thanks from any one nor any one gives him thanks.

Caste system itself is a hierarchically layered servitude, perhaps the highest caste may feel a bit of elevation, yet they themselves are slaves in many ways.

Fatalism: It is my fate or their fate – this is the colloquial discourse in India and therefore what scope is there to give thanks to anyone, and it is buttressed with the belief that what you are today is the result of your yesterday, and in either case, the individual is helpless.

In this fatalism, therefore, there is no scope for redemption as Christians understand; in redemptive theology there is scope for thanks giving, you will be automatically grateful to the redeemer or messiah.

Invasions: India had been under invasion since so many centuries, at least five thousand years and these invasions were from outsiders as well as insiders, the insiders went on subjugating the less powerful ones within the continent, either through muzzle power or through mind power by making stories and beliefs so that the subjugated would accept their servile condition without murmur and demur. The invaders do not want gratitude but servitude and the slave does not say thanks at all.

Scriptures: In the Indian scriptures, thanks-giving is almost absent and no preachers in India speak about it in a perceptible way in their discourses. But in the Bible it is an integral part of it and the term ‘thanks’ appear 114 times in the Bible and in the gospels in several places Jesus thanks his heavenly Father and he asked in surprise when one of the ten lepers returned to thank him “Where are the other nine?”. For the Roman Catholics the Eucharist itself means thanks-giving. So if the Thank You culture came from the Christian West, there is no surprise.

But in the 21st century, India can make a beginning to infuse a thanks-giving culture forgetting the past and the constraints we are in by looking at a great nation like USA where fourth Thursday of every November is one of its greatest days. In India, the political leadership must start the practice by thanking the previous government when a new one takes over; it will be a visible event for all Indians to learn. Whatever it may be, all the governments do something worthwhile for the people and the nation.

India must Institute a thanks-giving day in a year, to give thanks to all our freedom fighters, our scientists, artists, soldiers, philanthropists and others. Make it a national holiday and there must be special prayers in all the places of worship. Christians do it on January first New Year’s Day expressing gratitude to Jesus and to others for all the blessings that have come to life.

Let us listen to President John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic President of USA who wrote in November 1962: “It is fitting that we give our thanks for the safety of our land, for the fertility of our harvests, for the strength of our liberties, for the health of our people. We do so in no spirit of self-righteousness.”

John F. Kennedy

I was surprised to see the importance the people of USA give to thanks-giving as I was going through the autobiography of former Vice-President Joe Biden Promise Me, Dad. The first chapter and the longest chapter begins with this title: Biden Family Thanksgiving, and it takes 23 pages of the total 260 pages where in one place he says: “What you need is a nuclear thanksgiving. Meaning the nuclear family alone.”

Indian families can start this good practice like the families of USA and see the difference that makes in your life and the life of the nation.

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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