Other than Easter, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year.
Not for the food—although I love the food more than I want to admit. Roast turkey is one of my favorite foods. Sweet potato soufflé makes my mouth water. Fresh cranberry relish is a personal addiction. And my mother-in-law always makes a special batch of gravy for me with all the innards of the turkey that no one else wants to eat. My father-in-law married well.
But lots of other holidays are known for their food. Whether Christmas cookies or the corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day or hot dogs on the Fourth of July.
Neither is Thanksgiving special because of the extended break most of us get from work. A two day break that amounts to a four day weekend is a welcome relief for most people, especially for families with kids in school. Other holidays, though, offer the same sort of relief.
Thanksgiving’s special place in my heart as well as the hearts of many other people is that the holiday has accomplished two feats that in our commercialized and secularized world few people would have thought possible.
First, the day has preserved its religious meaning. No one who sits around a loaded table with people they love can miss the point that there’s a higher truth at work in the world than we usually acknowledge. The bent toward giving thanks we all have rises to the surface in the face of love, plenty and family. It lifts us up from the grubbiness that so much of modern life consists of. On Thanksgiving even an atheist believes in something beyond himself.
The second value Thanksgiving has managed to preserve is its essential purity. The holiday is an invitation to humility and gratitude in a world that knows little of either. Everyone who sits down for a Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday still connects with the simplicity of the first Pilgrim harvest festival, President Abraham Lincoln’s appeal to the holiday as a means of national unity during the Civil War and even with President Franklin Roosevelt institutionalizing Thanksgiving during the dark days of World War II.
Tucked between the neo-pagan silliness of Halloween and the commercial feeding frenzy that Christmas has become, Thanksgiving stands alone as a tribute to a simpler time of faith, family and food. That’s why we love it.
This year as I celebrate Thanksgiving, I’ll keep a few things in mind. Maybe these will help you celebrate the day, too:
- Eating a great meal around the table with your family and friends on your best china is one of life’s real pleasures. No rush. No urgency to get finished so you can hurry off to your next commitment. Just unhurried time with people you love. That’s a blessing all by itself.
- Our extended families—sadly, most of us only get together with them on rare occasions—have a much larger impact on us than we realize. The multi-generational relationships of our extended families make us who we are. It’s worth the effort to get with them as often as we can.
- Faith is most clearly seen in families. When our faith only consists of what we do in church on Sunday mornings, it’s not genuine. Real faith reveals itself at times like Thanksgiving, when gratitude, love and God show up in equal measure. When Pam and I gather at her parents’ home this Thursday, there will be four generations present, all tracking back to a few people over a hundred years ago who took God at His Word and determined to live by faith. Our Thanksgiving celebration bears testimony to the authenticity of their faith.