Among the most widely observed holidays, only New Year's Day is as open to individual application. But for many, New Year's is more about frivolity than introspection. Thanksgiving, while certainly known for food, is first and foremost about giving thanks in whatever way you find personally appropriate -- no matter the circumstances.

That's what the Pilgrims did in the first recorded American Thanksgivings. It certainly was Abraham Lincoln's intention in 1863 when in the midst of the Civil War he made Thanksgiving an official holiday. In his proclamation, he noted reasons for Americans to be thankful to God, including this glass half-full assessment:

"In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict..."

In conclusion, Lincoln urged:

"I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."

Appropriately, "Lincoln" is one of the blockbuster movies this holiday season -- yet another reminder that Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday for the United States today.

Nestled in between a bruising presidential election and a pending congressional battle over spending and taxes, Thanksgiving 2012 provides each American an opportunity to remember the things that enrich his or her life and to reach out to those who have been less blessed.

For many, generosity comes easily at this time of year. Robin Gordon Jr., director of Portland-based People Reaching Other People Expecting Restoration, said Thanksgiving is the easiest time of year to enlist volunteers -- a sentiment echoed by other charities.

With the help of some 100 volunteers, Po'Shines Cafe de la Soul and Celebration Tabernacle, PROPER serves a Thanksgiving meal to more than 500 people. In addition to the meal, the annual event at Celebration Tabernacle in North Portland includes live music. It attracts a crowd ranging from the homeless to low-income families to singles.

"We really want to give people a home-away-from-home experience," Gordon said.

Across the nation, thousands of Americans will volunteer at similar events today. Many more will offer a prayer for the less fortunate as they give thanks for the blessings they have received.

But the real challenge for each individual, for elected leaders and for the nation as a whole is to find a way to extend that spirit beyond the holidays, and to focus on what's possible instead of what's not. That is a tradition older than the nation itself.