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 favorites. Sweet potato soufflé makes my mouth water. Fresh cranberry relish is a personal addiction. Even the special gravy filled with the innards of the turkey that no one else will eat 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 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 is due to the way it’s 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. Our soul’s desire to give thanks bubbles to the surface in the face of love, plenty and family and we find ourselves lifted—if only for a few hours—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 this Thursday somehow connects with the simplicity of the first Pilgrim harvest festival; the desperation of President Abraham Lincoln’s appeal to the holiday as a means of national unity during the Civil War; or President Franklin Roosevelt humility in institutionalizing Thanksgiving during the dark days of World War II. It’s a distinctively American holiday that reminds us of the best our nation has to offer to the world.
Tucked between the neo-pagan silliness of Halloween and the 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 many of us will enjoy tomorrow have made 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 tomorrow, 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.
This blog is a version of a previous posting.