by Annette Bridges. © 2005. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 24, 2005. A national day of Thanksgiving.

Homecoming celebrations. Platefuls of turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce and pecan pie. Perhaps a feast less about food and more about family.

Americans gather with their loved ones and give thanks for the many blessings in their lives. Even when material treasures appear sparse, Americans remember the intangibles held close to heart and are grateful to be together.

Days of thanksgiving began long before a national proclamation was made. For the Plymouth colonists, it was a celebration of food and feasting following their first harvest.

During the 1700’s, it was common practice for individual colonies to observe days of thanksgiving throughout the year, but it was a day set aside for prayer and fasting rather than feasting.

Later in the 19th century, states would designate a day of thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, an adoption of a state constitution or a bountiful crop.

It was in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for the observance of a national Thanksgiving holiday. And it was in 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the national holiday the fourth Thursday in November.

Every Thanksgiving, thousands of families celebrate without a father, mother, son, daughter, brother or sister.

This year is no exception with thousands of American troops deployed overseas during the holidays. This year is different for my family because this year my family is among those thousands.

Our daughter married a little over two years ago, only six days before our son-in-law was to begin his Air Force training. Training completed, he left the country a couple of months ago on his first deployment. And our daughter, with her puppy in tow, returned to mom and dad’s house.

Difficult times, yes. But we keep our soldier ever in our thoughts, conversation and prayers.

Although he will not be present at our Thanksgiving dinner table, his empty place will be set. We will not raise our forks without first expressing our gratitude for his service to our nation. We will honor his willingness to put the safety and security of his fellow citizens before his own. We will pay tribute to his ideals, dedication, passion, patriotism, courage and conviction. And we will praise and pray for all servicemen and women and their families.

These words by Mary Baker Eddy, author of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, have become part of our daily prayer: “…may their love of country and their faithful service thereof, be unto them life-preservers!”

I must admit, holiday seasons have come and gone year after year without me giving more than a passing thought to the sacrifices made by our military and their families. This year I vow to begin a new tradition. From now on, we will have an empty place set at our dinner table every Thanksgiving. To never forget again the thousands that are separated from loved ones during precious holiday gatherings.

Perhaps you would like to join us?

Set an empty place at your Thanksgiving dinner table, too. And from table to table, we’ll give thanks all across America for our selfless heroes. And pray for their safe return home.

My family will most certainly have reason to feast again when our soldier comes home. A day for thanks giving, indeed!