by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.
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 1700s, it was common practice for individual colonies to observe a day 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 designated a day of thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, the adoption of a state constitution or a bountiful crop. It was in 1863 that 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.

Yet 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. Last year was different for my family, because we were among those thousands.

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

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

Although he was not present at our Thanksgiving dinner table, his empty place was set. We didn’t raise our forks until we first expressed our gratitude for his service to our nation. We honored his willingness to put the safety and security of his fellow citizens before his own. We paid tribute to his ideals, dedication, passion, patriotism, courage and conviction. And we prayed for and praised all servicemen and women and their families.

These words by Mary Baker Eddy summarized our daily prayer: “[M]ay 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. Last year I vowed to begin a new tradition — to have an empty place set at our dinner table every Thanksgiving. To never forget again the thousands who are separated from loved ones during precious holiday gatherings.

Perhaps you would like to join us? Set a 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 had a second Thanksgiving feast when our soldier came home in January. A day for thanksgiving, indeed!