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Posted: November 19, 2010 12:30 a.m.

About Faith: Alka-Seltzer and other Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving, for all its joy and stress, is a time of tradition. Every family I know can name five or six traditions they follow every year without fail. Some have little to do with the official day of giving thanks declared by Abraham Lincoln, but they have everything to do with forming memories that give us a sense of family and community.

At the top of the list is the overconsumption of food, followed by Alka-Seltzer for the expiation of sins. Then there are the contact sports, like football and going through airport security. And don’t forget the Family Recipe, which in some families is referred to and followed more faithfully than the Family Bible.

In our household, we have three traditions we follow without fail. The first involves setting off the smoke alarm (don’t ask; I promised Sue I would not mention it).

The other two traditions occur simultaneously as we gather around the table. Someone invariably asks me to say the blessing. While I settle in for a long prayer, others roll their eyes. They know it is hopeless to protest. The smoke alarm, the Thanksgiving Prayer Marathon, and the rolling of eyes are all family traditions we treasure.

I’m sorry, but I’m not going to shorten the prayer just because you want to get down to business while the potatoes are still hot. As I look around the table, I don’t see anyone in danger of passing out from lack of food. The cooks and the carvers have already sampled more food than they usually eat for lunch anyway.

Thanksgiving is more about giving thanks than food or family or football. It is the closest we will ever come to an official National Day of Prayer. To be sure, prayer is not required. People often talk of giving thanks without using the "P" word. I suppose one can be thankful without actually saying thank you, which is like being a teenager.

Thanksgiving is about giving thanks to God. Even the most ardent proponents of taking prayer out of the public arena have not dared to challenge the prayerful nature of Thanksgiving.

Arguably, the prayer before the dinner is better for you than the dinner itself. I don’t need to remind anyone that the average calorie count for that one meal is 5,000 to 6,000.

By contrast, prayer has been associated with several health benefits, including lower blood pressure, greater resistance to disease, higher reported life satisfaction, and longer lifespan. In this sense, prayer is more like exercise than Thanksgiving dinner; the more you practice it, the greater is the benefit. And no matter how long I pray, no one has yet asked for an Alka-Seltzer when I finally say "Amen."

G.K. Chesterton wrote, "I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." Now there is food for thought. Who can object to raising our forms of thought, and doubling our happiness? So when it comes down to Thanksgiving dinner, I invite you to adopt one of our family traditions (not the smoke alarm), and settle in for a good long prayer. You have much to be thankful for, even in these difficult times. Besides, the food will still be there when you are done, most of it anyway.

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