This Thursday marks the 150th anniversary of the “official” day of Thanksgiving. Although America’s Thanksgiving celebrations are rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation, the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is commonly, but not universally, traced to a 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. But it was 150 years ago that President Abraham Lincoln made a proclamation celebrating Thanksgiving on the same date, the final Thursday of November, by all states in our nation torn by the Civil War.
Traditionally, Thanksgiving is a holiday to give thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Much like Christmas, the historical roots of Thanksgiving are in religious traditions where we are literally giving thanks to God for His provision and abundance.
In an increasingly secular culture, Thanksgiving has become a day of feasting, football, and family. These are, without question, worthy reasons to celebrate, but inevitably one begins to wonder, To whom are we giving thanks? If there’s no belief in God, do we give thanks for our food, football, and family gatherings to each other? To the government? To the grocery store and farmers who provided the food? To our family, even though we can list ten reasons why we wish we didn’t have to get together with…all of them?
The same thing applies to Christmas. If all we’re doing at Christmas is buying presents, having parties, and getting together with…that same family, do we still have to call it “Christ”mas? Maybe we should change the name of Thanksgiving to “Holiday-fest” and Christmas to “Happy Holidays.” Oh, wait, we’ve already done that.
I find it sad that in a secular culture, we are bound to a new tradition void of our religious roots and heritage. We have become fearful of reminding people that some of our nation’s first pilgrims gathered to thank GOD for His provisions. We’re not forcing people to do the same by writing and speaking about this element of our American history. If we remind people that the origin of Christmas is the celebration of God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ, we’re not telling people that they have to worship Jesus nor that we want a Christian theocracy. Do we gut the historical, religious roots of Hanukkah next? How would people feel if those who celebrate Kwanzaa were told that this holiday is no longer centered around the African-American heritage?
Even though the textbooks of our schools may strip away the historical origins of Thanksgiving and Christmas in order to fit the prevailing “tolerance” of our age, Christians of all denominations have an opportunity this holiday season to keep telling the story. And more importantly to keep living the story through humility, love, and servanthood.
I will be taking time off from the blog later this week to give thanks to GOD for family, food and football (and you should too). Until next week, Happy Thanksgiving—and thanks be to the God of creation for His provision and abundance.