Why We Love Thanksgiving

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Other than Easter, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Not for the food—although I love it more than I want to admit. The smell of roast turkey sets my mouth watering. Sweet potato soufflé–especially the kind with crumbled pecans and brown sugar on top–drives me to prayer. Fresh cranberry relish is an addiction. And I can’t get enough of the special gravy filled with turkey innards that my mother-in-law makes just for me.

But lots of holidays are known for their food—whether Christmas cookies or corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day or hot dogs on the Fourth of July. Thanksgiving cuisine isn’t what sets the day apart.

Neither is Thanksgiving special because of the vacation most get from work. A two day break that amounts to a four day weekend is a welcome break, especially for families with kids in school. Other holidays, though, offer the same sort of relief.

Thanksgiving’s special place is due to the way it accomplishes something that few people would have thought possible.

First, the day has preserved its religious meaning. No one who sits around a loaded table with family and friends can miss the point that there’s a higher truth at work in the world than we usually acknowledge. The soul’s desire to give thanks rises to the surface in the face of love and plenty and we find ourselves lifted—if only for a few hours—from the grubbiness and meanness 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. It’s an invitation to humility and gratitude in a culture that knows little of either. Everyone who sits down for Thanksgiving dinner today connects with the thankfulness of the Pilgrims as they celebrated their first harvest; the call of President George Washington for divine help as he took office; the desperation of President Abraham Lincoln’s appeal for national unity during the Civil War; and President Franklin Roosevelt’s proclamation of the day as a federal holiday during the dark days of the Great Depression. It’s a distinctively American occasion that reminds us of the best our nation has to offer.

Tucked between the neo-pagan silliness of Halloween and the feeding frenzy of the Christmas shopping season, Thanksgiving stands as a witness to faith, family and abundance. 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 many of us will enjoy today have made us who we are. It’s worth the effort to get with them as often as we can. The people we see around the table this year may not be with us next year.
  • 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 with her extended family later today, 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. The Thanksgiving celebration bears testimony to the authenticity of their faith–as it does for so many other families.

This is an edited version of a previous blog

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