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Gratitude is the hallmark of many faiths

Can a civil holiday like Thanksgiving also be religious?

The giving of thanks does not belong to any one faith but speaks from the depths of them all. Perhaps this justifies President Bush's calling Thanksgiving "America's most beloved tradition." Gratitude is a sign of spiritual life.

In fact, the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an, repeatedly associates believers with those who are grateful. The Christian "Eucharist" is derived from a Greek term meaning "thanksgiving." As Hinduism developed, the very act of breathing became a sacrifice of praise.

The first thanksgiving feasts in this land were offered by American Indians, long before they heard of Christianity. The legendary "first Thanksgiving" with the Indians and the Christian Pilgrims was an interfaith occasion. Furthermore, the Pilgrims understood their own feasts as a version of the Jewish Festival of Booths.

In 1492 Christians - and most likely Jews - were aboard the ships of Columbus, using maps from the Muslim world. Islam touched this continent in 1539. Buddhist immigrants arrived in the 1840s. A Hindu group formed here in 1896. America has become perhaps the most religiously pluralistic nation in history.

While turkey remains an emblem of the feast, the Kansas City Interfaith Council's annual Thanksgiving Sunday meal includes a vegetarian option for those whose faith forbids meat. Baha'i, Buddhist, Sikh, Sufi, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan and Zoroastrian speakers and those from faiths already mentioned participate.

The universal call to give thanks inspires us as Americans. This is why one special day becomes a model for every day of living one's faith, whatever it is, with thanksgiving.

Vern Barnet does interfaith work in the Kansas City area. His Web site is

©Copyright 2001, The Kansas City Star

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