Thanksgiving: Our Secular Feast?

One of the websites I check every single day is 22 Words, a blog that collects interesting and funny videos, pictures, and stories from all over the Internet. Yesterday, one of the videos posted stirred something up in me that I thought I’d quite like to address here. It might help you to watch the video before I get into it. More after the jump:

That man in the video is New York Times Writer Sam Sifton. In general, I think his rules are brilliant. You need to follow them. What he says at the end of the video is, however, what caught my attention. Quite frankly, I think it’s garbage and needs to be addressed. Sifton says:

“Give thanks. That is, after all, the point of the whole holiday. On Thanksgiving we gather together as a nation to give thanks to one another. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s our secular holiday, it’s our secular feast: Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving: Give thanks.”

Sorry, Mr. Sifton. Thanks for leading us in an exercise in missing the point. Perhaps you missed the first grade lesson on Thanksgiving, but allow me to give you a brief history lesson. You see, these pilgrims weren’t mere voyagers. No, most (thought not all) of them were Christians. In History.com’s article about Thanksgiving, the authors talk about Thanksgiving as a time (not just a day) of both feasting and fasting. Perhaps Sifton had missed this.

“Fasting, you say? That certainly is peculiar. I thought Thanksgiving was simply a time to stuff my body with enough dressing that when I fall over due to the food baby I have developed, my landing is padded.” Well, no, typical American. That is not, in fact, the point of Thanksgiving. Thankgiving began, yes, as a response to a bountiful harvest. It did not begin, however, as a feast of thanks to “one another”. In fact, as the History.com article argues, there may have been an earlier feast that should be recognized as the first Thanksgiving, wherein they “read a proclamation designating the date as ‘a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God’. I could go on, but it seems obvious from any small amount of research that the original Thanksgiving and those that followed were largely religious holidays, not “secular feasts”. Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks to the Lord, the Lord of the Harvest (Mt. 9:38), the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

As Christians, what are we to do with Mr. Sifton’s argument that “this is our secular feast”? I say we wholeheartedly reject it. Traditionally, as Americans, this is not our secular feast any more than Easter is about some pagan God of fertility. Friends, we certainly ought, as free Americans, to stuff our faces with as much dressing, turkey, and pie as we can (of course, I say that tongue in cheek). But let’s not forget that this Thanksgiving is not a time for us to sit around, pat one another on the back, and say, “Good job. Keep working hard until next year.” No, Thanksgiving is about God. As Christians, we are to be, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20 ESV).”

So eat your turkey.
Watch the parade.
Gather with those you love.
Watch the Detroit Lions lose.
Pass out on the couch later and don’t feel guilty about it.
But give thanks to the one who deserves it.

Give thanks to God.

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