Thanksgiving — an American way of life
Recently, I asked some people, “What things are uniquely American?” I got all kinds of answers – baseball, BBQ, jazz music, blue jeans and many more. Yet, there is one thing that tops them all: Thanksgiving. As many as 40 million of us will travel on or before Thanksgiving Day in order to be with our family and friends. We will sit together, no matter if we get along or not. We will laugh or cry and eat till we pop. Many of us will bow our heads in thanks for the blessings of loved ones, health, job, freedom and life itself. Indeed, thanksgiving is uniquely our American phenomenon.
Why is this so? Is it because the pilgrims celebrated the “First Thanksgiving” with the Indians and thus set the tradition for generations to come? Not really. It is quite possible that the pilgrims might have celebrated some form of harvest festival with the Native Americans; but the evidence regarding that event is not very clear and doesn't necessarily point to a large celebration. Later writers and painters have embellished much of what we have come to think of the “First Thanksgiving.” They are not strong enough motivators for us to take red-eye flights or drive in the dead of night to avoid getting stuck in thanksgiving traffic.
Is it because our government has instituted “Thanksgiving Day?” Not really, again. It is true that President Washington issued a proclamation that Nov. 26, 1789, be celebrated as a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin.” It is also true that President Lincoln set the last Thursday in November as the National day of Thanksgiving and that later, Congress passed a law ensuring the celebration of the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day every year. Nevertheless, our moms and grandmas don’t slave over a hot stove for three days in order to comply with some government mandate. After all, most of us Americans don’t take kindly to state sponsored religion.
Is it the food? Is it the family? Is it the urge for us to shop till we drop on “Black Friday?” I don’t think so. While there is some truth in all of them, I think the reason is much deeper. The real reason we celebrate Thanksgiving is because deep in our psyche we know that all we are and all we have is from above. This does not mean that every person sitting around the dinner table will be choking back tears of gratitude. Neither does it mean that those of us who are grateful will have the same level of gratefulness. What it does mean is that we know deep within that there is a divine hand that is guiding our lives – what Ravi Zacharias calls the “Grand Weaver.”
This is not to say that people in other parts of the world are unappreciative and ungrateful. Neither does it mean that other people don’t recognize some sovereign deity. Here’s the difference – our American sense of gratefulness towards God is not motivated by fear or obligation to God but comes from the recognition that God is good and gracious towards us, even though we don’t deserve it. Somehow we know that God in His goodness either carried us to the finish line or moved the finish line a little closer for us. Somehow we know that we have much more to be thankful for than to complain about.
When people ask me if America’s glory days are over, I remind them to keep their eyes on Thanksgiving Day. The Bible reminds us that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful....Therefore God also gave them up.” (Romans 1:18-24). As long as Thanksgiving remains a part of the American way of life, we are still a “shining city upon a hill.”
This Thanksgiving let’s thank God for all our material, physical and spiritual blessings. Thank Him most of all for bringing us hope, forgiveness and peace through Jesus Christ. Happy Thanksgiving!