In the U.S., we start at an early age learning about the Pilgrims crossing the sea to escape religious persecution and landing in what is now Massachusetts. We learn about their hardships and troubles and how the native Indians helped them survive. We read about the feast shared by these two people groups and thus, the “first” Thanksgiving was born.
Thanksgiving, like everything else, has evolved over time and has become something far different than that first meal. While there probably was wild turkey served, there were probably other wild game meats, too. The Pilgrims probably did not have access to mashed potatoes, yams, squash and other vegetables, since there was no way to keep them fresh or preserve them until late fall into winter.
And dessert? While today we all dream of pumpkin or pecan pie with mounds of whipped cream, the Pilgrims themselves were running low on lots of staples including sugar, so there may have been no dessert to finish the meal.
But it wasn’t about the meal. It was about the sincere offering of two people groups — the symbol of sharing and of coming together, peaceably, with joyful hearts that was the focus.
Today, we find ourselves not celebrating surviving another year and being thankful for the harvest and blessings before us, but we find ourselves in panic over finding a turkey that is “big” enough (Phil 4:6), wondering who will start the first argument (Eph 5:4) as we gather together. And will my boss be generous enough to give us the Friday after Thanksgiving off as well?
So what happened to the “giving thanks” for what we already have? Like many other holidays in the U.S., this one changed dramatically over time.
Some people, though, are standing up for the holiday.
For example, there is a Facebook poll and banner going around to boycott shopping on Thanksgiving Day. Many Facebook friends are also participating in “30 days of being thankful,” where they start their day by posting things for which they are thankful. Admittedly, lots of them are struggling in coming up with 30 items or ideas.
I can remember a time, not so long ago, when stores and even gas stations were closed on Sundays and all major holidays. Banks were never open on Saturdays, and people were expected to stay home, all day, and enjoy the company of their loved ones!
What happened? Why has this become so difficult for us? We got distracted. We forgot what we are supposed to be thinking about. “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Col 4:2). We put the “things” first and have made it more of a “Things-giving Day.” So what’s a family to do? I know in my family we make a concentrated effort each year to start with focusing on gathering people together first. The meal is second. This year, we are planning family photos and pictures of the grown grandkids with the grandparents, and grown children with their parents.
This is a time for us to reflect on what we truly are thankful for. Not the “things,” but the people.
The Bible speaks of being thankful, and it represents what the Pilgrims expressed so long ago. “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Col 3:14-15).
Starting today, and each and every day forward, let’s remember those items that we are truly, truly thankful for and move from the “30 days of being thankful” to the “365 days of being thankful.” Let us never run out of things to be thankful for, even in suffering, because each day brings us closer to being with our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:15).