As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, what is the most important thing to remember? As Paul said to the Thessalonians, “Thou shalt remember to save room for the pumpkin pie sent by the Corinthians.” No, not really. However, there are some important things to recall as we gather for our yearly Thanksgiving dinners.
We could take a look at the mythology of Thanksgiving; the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. Do you remember the stories told in school plays and storybooks? We might recall the annual football games held on Thanksgiving featuring the indefatigable Detroit Lions. Or, it could be gathering your family and friends over a meal and waiting on Uncle Frank to have one too many beers and begin talking about building the wall. But better than all of those, Thanksgiving could be about Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving would have nothing to do with the Pilgrims, Squanto, Football, overcooked Turkey, Uncle Frank’s politics, or anything else. What if Thanksgiving was about Thanksgiving?
In the Bible, Thanksgiving meant Thanksgiving. There were no turkeys, football, Squanto, or Pilgrims. I’m not sure Deviled Eggs were kosher. Can anything called “deviled” be holy? Despite this semantic sin, I’m on board with the Devil’s eggs. In Jesus’ day, people were thankful without all of the extra baggage we’ve attached to the idea of being thankful. Their idea of gratitude derived from an appreciation of being alive. We find it hard to appreciate being alive without first confronting the emotional depths of a cat meme or having a relative with a serious illness. Jesus’ followers were able to find gratitude for their daily bread despite their brother having leprosy or their sister’s calling to be a prostitute by the local well. Gratitude isn’t something picked up from comparing yourself to the misery of others; it is our response to God’s presence in the universe.
What if our Thanksgiving was more than a day to prepare for Black Friday deals, overeat, and remind you of how much you dislike some members your family? I know that’s asking a lot. Stick with me on this leap. Without the baggage we usually associate with Thanksgiving, we might actually see Thanksgiving for what it is and what it was meant to be: an opportunity to be thankful.
Thanksgiving is this Thursday. One day a year we officially give thanks as a nation. It is a holiday with puritanical religious overtones where no one goes to church. It is a family holiday where we ask more and more people to leave their families and work on Thanksgiving to satisfy our desire to buy new stuff so we may adequately celebrate the birth of Christ. It’s a secular holiday where societal convention dictates we overeat, watch football, and nap. We do Thanksgiving once a year because the calendar says so. In short, it’s a moral and ethical mess of our own design. The reason Thanksgiving feels forced, blasé, and awkward is that it is forced, commercialized, manufactured, and has nothing to do with real honest to God gratitude or thankfulness.
If you want Thanksgiving to function, it’s got to happen every day of the year and be permanently disassembled from the cookie cutter, one size fits all image of the perfect American holiday. Thanksgiving doesn’t start and end with one blessing around one dinner table at one lunchtime one on Thursday afternoon.
Richard Lowell Bryant