Thanksgiving is spelled c-h-a-r-a-c-t-e-r

They are among the first words we teach our children: Thank you.

When the lady behind the bakery counter at the grocery hands your little one a free cookie, you beam with pride when that small voice says, “T’ank you.”

We insist on children writing thank you notes, even if it means they are written under duress. That giant t, crooked h, sloping a, backward n, drooping k and s that runs off the page are a monumental achievement.

One small step for a 6-year-old, one giant leap for mankind.

No matter what your age, it is always nice, not to mention appropriate, to say thank you. Making eye contact when you say it doesn’t hurt either.

Saying thank you is a fundamental expression of humanity. It is the way we acknowledge our own indebtedness and another’s kindness. In that brief moment when we say thanks, we hit pause, slow the rapid-fire pace and enjoy the moment, the thoughtfulness, the consideration, the goodness.

And yet this delightful morsel called thankfulness, which imbues the spirit, brings satisfaction to the heart and contentment to the soul, seems to be an occasional occurrence rather than a perpetual frame of mind.

What holds us back from being continually thankful? So many things, really. Bad attitudes, lack of perspective, changing circumstances.

It is a far greater challenge to maintain thankfulness when circumstances press against us than when they align in our favor. Am I thankful only when things are going my way and the road is easy? Or do I have a perspective that allows me to count my blessings when uncertainty and hardship are my new best friends?

The Puritans, despite pummeling by untrue stereotypes, were a most remarkable group of people. The fortitude and resilience they displayed were heroic. They knew hardship both in the old world and in the new. The Pilgrim-Puritan legacy is not really that long wooden table loaded with wild game and playing field games with the Indians. Their true legacy is character. They sustained faithfulness and thankfulness under dire circumstances. Despite what should have been crushing deprivation, they persevered and remained clear-headed visionaries. Puritan John Geree wrote that the Puritan motto was “Vincit qui patitur.” That is Latin for “He who suffers conquers.”

The Puritans embraced all of life as a test of their faithfulness. (Many do the same today, but flip the equation and test God’s faithfulness, not man’s.) The Puritans were thankful for the material gifts of the harvest and shelter, but they also knew that what was in abundant supply one season could be gone the next. More importantly, they were thankful to, and for, the Giver of the gifts.

Thanksgiving is more than the fourth Thursday in November. It is more than the Macy’s Parade and a wonderful meal. Thanksgiving is a habit of the heart. It is an attitude, a benchmark of maturity and a measure of faithfulness.

The Psalmist says, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His loving kindness is everlasting.” The Psalmist is right.

Hopefully, we can give thanks more than once a year.