Brian Mittge Commentary: The Spirit of Thanksgiving Is a Tonic for Our Divisions


Election season is finally more or less finished (it’s all over but the countin’). I’m thankful for our American system of self-governance, but our elections always seem a little like a boxing match. 

I guess it’s natural and necessary that electoral contests require candidates to highlight what makes them different. Often on a national level that has deteriorated into weaponizing the divisions in our society. We turn cracks into deep ruptures — differences into divisions. 

As a body politic, we come away bruised and bleeding.

Fortunately, our next big shared cultural event after Election Day is one of the most American of holidays, Thanksgiving.

We all know and mostly love the holiday because it’s a time to gather with family and stuff ourselves on turkey and all the fixings. Sometimes it’s also a time when we dredge up the old election debates and get into fights over politics. 

For me, Thanksgiving is a lot more than that. 

The idea of a holiday dedicated to gratitude, to thinking about how we can come together in thankfulness, is inspiring and important. 

For years I’ve been exploring and expanding that feeling by curating a list of Thanksgiving songs. 

Like Christmas carols enhance the holiday spirit, these songs remind us of the depths that a true, monthlong spirit of Thanksgiving can do for a person — and maybe a nation.

After a season of division, Thanksgiving is a time to remember the values we share. It’s important to return to these bedrock common beliefs, I think. When we shout and argue about politics, it’s because we disagree on how best to accomplish these deeply held goals. 

In contrast to election season, Thanksgiving is a time to come together, to focus on the vision of what our American good life could be. 

  1. By our shared labors, we all thrive. An example is the old harvest time, when we would work together to sow the seeds and bring in the crop, as in the hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves” (an old name for bundles of grains): 

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness

Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;

Waiting for the harvest and the time of reaping,

We shall come rejoining, bringing in the sheaves.

  1. Home is a refuge from troubles, and is worth celebrating, as in the John Denver classic, “Back Home Again”:

Hey, it's good to be back home again

Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend.

Yes and hey, it's good to be back home again

  1. Family ties need to be preserved. Don’t let politics divide you from kinfolk. Don’t let family ties wither. As we get older, these ancient bonds become an irreplaceable treasure. It’s a sentiment musician Ben Rector brought forward last year in his beautiful “The Thanksgiving Song”:

Watching football, watching families grow

The old kid's table all have kids of their own

So fill your plate and fill your drink

And fill this house with family

The kind of love a thousand miles can’t wash away

‘Cause the older that I get

I see that life is short and bittersweet

Thank God for this Thanksgiving Day

  1. Appreciation is the antidote. Much of what ails us today can be helped, if not cured, by an attitude of gratitude. Be thankful to your spouse, your co-workers, your neighbors, and your God (if you’re a believer), as in the old classic “Count Your Blessings”:

When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed;

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

  1. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re still pretty good, as country star Travis Tritt reminds us in “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive”:

And its a great day to be alive 

I know the sun’s still shinin’ when I close my eyes 

There’s some hard times in the neighborhood

But why can't every day be just this good?

There are many more reasons to sing about the joy that comes from simple thankfulness. 

If you want to listen to these Thanksgiving songs, I have a playlist up at

And I’d be awfully grateful if you’d consider singing a few of them with your families. Words and music are at

In these troubled times, let’s take time to picture the good life of our common dreams, and let’s be thankful that we can try to get there together.

Brian Mittge is grateful to live in rural Chehalis, his hometown. Contact him at