Setting apart Thanksgiving
Fri, 11/22/2013 - 8:22am admin
In the last weeks, I find myself increasingly annoyed at the Black Friday ads flooding my mailbox and crowding my television screen. While it’s great that you can get the best price of the year on that DVD or that dishwasher, I do not feel the slightest bit impelled to stand out in the cold waiting for a store to open.
Actually, the idea kind of makes me mad.
Thanksgiving has become a lost holiday in our culture. It has been degraded to a rite of passage to start playing Christmas music and to trample people at the nearest Walmart. On the altar of bargains and thriftiness we have sacrificed the benefit of giving thanks, and most of us are ignorant of the void ungratefulness creates in us.
Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. While most people know the story of the Pilgrims and how the Indians helped them through the first winter, the meaning has been lost. The Pilgrims were celebrating that they were alive, that there was food in front of them, that they had each other and had overcome the winter together.
Ultimately, the civil freedom our nation is built upon was hinged on the survival of those Pilgrims in Massachusetts.
The history of Thanksgiving is then rather scattered. There were days set aside by the Continental Congress as days of Thanksgiving during the American Revolution, and Presidents Washington, Adams and Madison also proclaimed days of Thanksgiving.
George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclama-tion in 1789 called people to “…a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially…” for the favorable outcome of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
Thanksgiving didn’t become an annually celebrated national holiday until the next great test for our nation: the Civil War. President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday with these words spoken October 3, 1863:
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come…In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity…peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict…I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States…to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And…commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore…the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it...”
How did we get from this reflection and gratitude to commercialism and doorbuster deals? Can’t we set apart one day to fellowship with our friends and family and be thankful for the past year? Is the economy to blame for its ever encroaching presence or have we just let down our guard and allowed it to take over? Are we willing to sacrifice times of thanks to boost the economy?
During the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to stimulate retail sales by moving Thanksgiving up to the third Thursday in November. So great was the resulting opposition to this move, mockingly called “Franksgiving,” that FDR quickly reinstated the holiday to the fourth week of November.
Depression-Era Americans were repulsed at using a national holiday to boost sales. Surely the economy was worse in 1939 than it is now. It seems we have morally slipped as a nation to embrace such blatant commercialism – even allowing the stores to open on Thanksgiving Day. Clearly our priorities have shifted.
Thanksgiving is so much more than football, a parade, and a great deal on an iPad. It is a call to remember, to reflect, to share, and to give thanks heavenward for the year we’ve enjoyed and to fellowship with our friends and families. This holiday is intentionally interwoven into our history from our nation’s founders; an irrevocable reminder to remember who we are and where we come from.
My friend Donna Eddy is 89 years old. She was born in Big Lake and lives here today. She has witnessed prosperity and hope, the depression and war, and has watched our town grow up.
I recently asked her what she was thankful for this Thanksgiving season. She replied, “I’m thankful to the Lord for all He does for all of us. I’m thankful for my family, friends, daily life and health, my gardens, and those who take care of me.”
Her wisdom serves me well. This Thanksgiving, I am making it a point to reflect on what I am truly thankful for, and to redeem in my life a holiday that is so often lost. I, like President Lincoln, invite my fellow citizens to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.