Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Volunteers package hot holiday meals at The Salvation Army in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012. More than 500 meals were delivered to senior citizens who otherwise would not have a home cooked meal on Thanksgiving Day.

Remember those pilgrim hats and Indian headbands we used to make at Thanksgiving time in grade school with construction paper and glue that kept falling over our eyes? And later, we made those same things with our kids and grandkids.

We learned how the pilgrims and the Native Americans came together to celebrate and give thanks for a successful harvest that helped them survive the tough times they faced. However, as kids, all we thought of was the fun we had cutting the paper and eating the school paste, instead of boring book learning. Little did we realize it was the beginning of discovering our roots, our common values that bind us together as a society — sharing, working with others and giving thanks for the blessings bestowed upon us. Thanksgiving Day, along with Christmas and other religious traditions, marks the beginning of the "giving season" that brings us together to share, love and feel the warmth and glow of a sense of family and community. It's a nostalgic time that helps us reflect upon the blessings we have beyond the material things and that we are part of something greater than ourselves — family, community and faith.

Oh, if only we could bottle it and share it together throughout the year. Maybe we would spread our love and reach out to others who are in need as we were taught at home, in schools and in our places of worship — to feed the hungry, clothe and give shelter to the poor. We all pulled together in time of need and danger to our nation, be it disasters, floods, tornadoes, economic hard times or wars. We sacrificed for love of country and each other. It's what forms the American character and helps us thrive as a nation.

And I don't mean thrive materially, rather in spirit and in character. We were founded on caring values, the dignity, worth and respect for the individual. And like the pilgrims and the Native Americans, they learned to depend upon each other and it is the greatest power our nation possesses. It made us become the nation others looked to emulate.

Now, our nation is undergoing hard times, and unlike past generations, we find ourselves more divided, perpetuated by some politicians who exploit our fears about our changing world by dividing us over the problems we face as a nation. I don't think the pilgrims or the pioneers who built our nation and our valley worried about who got more stuff. They worried about how to work together to survive. They counted their blessings and gave thanks.

The traditions and symbols each society creates serve to preserve and perpetuate the values so vital for the survival of that society. When they begin to crumble, so does society. It's up to each generation to make sure that never happens.

So, as we begin the "giving season," let us embrace each other with the values that helped make us who we are as a nation — love, faith and caring for each other.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at [email protected]