Thursday, November 23, 2006

Don't "Happy Turkey Day" Me!

For a long time now, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday. This is undoubtedly to some extent because of how much I like to eat, but it was mostly because it seemed to me to be the least corrupted of the major holidays. Christmas was completely commercialized, Easter had been co-opted by bunnies and candy. Thanksgiving, of course, was dominated by feasts and football, but it seemed to me that I could more easily ignore that - I wasn't being bombarded by commercials from toy and candy manufacturers. Yes, the major focus was the Big Dinner, but sharing food with family is a bonding time. It wasn't about the meal; the meal was about the celebration, and yes, we always did remember to give thanks, to express our appreciation to God and to one another.

And so it was with dismay that I began hearing "Happy Turkey Day" years ago. To me, it was the equivalent of wishing someone a "Merry Presents Day" or "Happy Chocolate Bunny Day." Nothing like isolating the most superficial aspect of a holiday and identifying the whole with that one incidental part. And now I am seeing more encroachment on the actual meaning of the day. I'm sure it's just me paying more attention, rather than a significant, recent change. But I was watching the Thanksgiving Day parade today and noticed how few of the floats and balloons had anything to do with Thanksgiving at all. If one didn't know better (which I'm beginning to think I don't), one could have sworn that it was a Christmas parade. Which, of course, it was. The function of Thanksgiving these days is to power-shift the Christmas shopping season into high gear.

It seems clich├ęd to talk about the "real meaning" of holidays. And having brought it up, you may expect me to say something about Pilgrims and harsh winters. But the "real meaning" of a holiday isn't a history lesson - although it would be good if we remembered that glib talk about "harsh winters" obscures the reality that a full half of those who came across on the Mayflower had died by the time of that first Thanksgiving. All of those giving thanks (well, the English, anyway) were grieving loved ones who hadn't made it to that day; they had all been through a horrific experience and were still thankful.

But the "real meaning" of Thanksgiving is simply the giving of thanks - expressing gratitude to God for all the things He has given to us, and perhaps more importantly, remembering that they are blessings from God and that we owe gratitude for them. Thanksgiving is our cultural harvest festival, which has less meaning to us since we can get any kind of food we want at any time of the year, but nonetheless functions much as the Feast of Weeks (Lev 23:10-21) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:34-43) did for the ancient Israelites (in the Israeli climate there are two harvests). Harvest is a good time to remember the Lord for His blessings. A farmer can plant and tend his crops faithfully, only to lost the whole thing in a drought. In an era in which so many consider themselves "self-made men" (and consequently feel no responsibility to others - "If I can do it, you can too"), it is important for us to recall that anything we do will come to nothing without the favor of the Lord.

For this, O Lord, please make us truly thankful.

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