Thanksgiving 2006 

This is the most American of days, yet oddly disconnected from the government, day to day life or even a day that plays much of an official religious culture in the nation. The rest of the planet will go about their business today, and aside from some globalized cities or places with financial dealings with America, the rest of the world will be oblivious to the large, unavoidable mass of tradition, familial activity, feastings, travel and connectedness that this provides. Other than Christmas, no other day is as romanticized, and sentimentalized as this one.

It has simply two requirements:

  1. Be thankful for something outside of yourself
  2. Feast on a traditional meal, preferably with family, friends and the downtrodden

That’s it, and for good or ill that is all there is to it. Yes, most certainly, there is deep history to this day. Dr. Mark Roberts has an excellent concise history of the day, here.  Of course the first Thanksgiving in 1621 was nothing of the sort. It was a plain harvest festival between two groups of people that could not be more different in any age: an indigenous, disease ravaged and politically fractured tribe on the edge of the world and a group of early modern English villagers, whose religious devotion and doctrine would have made today’s most notable fundamentalist Christians look like libertines. And the Thanksgiving part? For the Pilgrim Separatists, they had days of small “t” thanksgiving about as often as today’s people go out to eat or go and buy expensive coffee. They lived in plainly, Coram Deo, in the presence of God, they knew no other way to live. Just a few score of wandering souls, who succeeded in establishing a community to their liking, and hopefully pleasing to the Reformed Faith, and along the way making massive mistakes. A day of feasting and activity in place of real thanksgiving? Not them.

This is not the day to celebrate the founding of a ‘Christian nation’, for the land the Pilgrim Separatists were fleeing from was as officially a Christian nation as there ever had been. Nor is it the day for raw gluttony. I stand second to no one in enjoying the traditional meal. In fact, I’ll be blessed to enjoy two of them this holiday. It is a day to celebrate, in the best theological term, common grace, that is the celebration of all material and spiritual blessings given to all men by their Creator.  Virtually every family, mine on included, will have hard blessings to recall from the past year. And everyone of us can remember the even more hard blessings of others we know, directly or indirectly. Yet in the midst of that, because of it, we are called, culturally, and by the cloud of witnesses beginning nearly 400 years ago, to stop and give thanks to the other, to the One, and at times to others, outside of ourselves. It is hard and not to be passed over lightly.

In just 24 hours, as is nearly completely custom, the day will be wiped clean of a mention of turkey, pilgrims and family and we will be headlong into the mass-appeal Christmas shopping season. It is at once the hardest and best time of the year. I am not sure you can experience it without deeply imbibing what Thanksgiving has to offer, even if you pass quickly over the small “t” thanksgiving.

Catherine Claire offers three reminders as we rush headlong into the traditional Holiday season:

  1. Provision: Moses warns the Israelites not to mistake their bounty as the fruit of their own hands, but rather see it clearly as the gracious gift of God (Dt. 8:10-16)
  2. Contentment: the joy of the Christian life is contentment, “Godliness with contentment is great gain,” a phrase never popular in any era, but needed
  3. Anticipation: For even the most well-off of us, financially, physically and relationally, this can be a hard time of year. The passover that Jesus celebrated with his disciples was a meal of thanksgiving, a feast of remembrance and anticipation. Even a dark time of year and life can hold anticipation for the great feast to come.

In many ways, this is my favorite day of the year. It begins six weeks of family, friends, feasting, activity that are unparelled the rest of the year. But I think it can also be a day that begins quiet reflection of gratitude for what has been and what will be done, along with a struggle with the hunger in the soul. It’s a good day to be thankful, to rightfully desire more and be content with what we have.