The True Meaning Of Thanksgiving

The modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition traces its origins to a 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving prompted by a good harvest. In later years, the tradition was continued by civil leaders such as Governor Bradford who planned a thanksgiving celebration and fast in 1623. While initially, the Plymouth colony did not have enough food to feed half of the 102 colonists, the Wampanoag Native Americans helped the Pilgrims by providing seeds and teaching them to fish. The practice of holding an annual harvest festival like this did not become a regular affair in New England until the late 1660s.

Millions of people gather together to observe Thanksgiving Day—there will be talk, food, and memories, people will give thanks for the blessings and gifts in their life and remember the losses and trails of the previous year, look forward to the coming holiday season and new year. They will watch movies, sports games, and parades on TV. Some of us will head to the movie theatre and take in a movie. Many may be without family and find community in a chosen group or a faith community, the unlucky ones will spend this festive day alone.  

There is a dark underbelly to this day. The day after commonly referred to as Black Friday, a day retail stores look forward to all year. It’s the one day when shopping becomes a contact sport. Shopper line before the stores open and run like mad through the store grabbing the items on their list. If you have not experienced this day you have missed consumerism at its base level. Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States, traditionally the beginning of the Christmas shopping season on this day, most major retailers open extremely early, often at 5 a.m., or earlier, and offer promotional sales to kick off the shopping season, similar to Boxing Day sales in many British Commonwealth countries. Black Friday is not a holiday. It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year. Black Friday indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or are “in the black”.

For many years, it was common for retailers to open at 6:00, but in the late 2000s, many had crept to 5:00 or even 4:00. This was taken to a new extreme in 2011, when several retailers (including Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Best Buy, and Bealls) will open at midnight for the first time, forcing employees to either go without enough sleep or miss all or part of Thanksgiving with family. A backlash has resulted, with an online petition gathering more than 184,000 virtual signatures urging Target to let their employees have Thanksgiving with their families instead of their employer. Wal-Mart will open at 10:00 on Thanksgiving night and Toys ‘R’ Us at 9:00.

With all that said I would like to share a few reflections on what Thanksgiving is all about, even if you, my dear reader do not live in the United States can still get something out of this post. My site is about conversing on and finding new and fresh ways of following Jesus. Therefore, I hope my words will help you find ways of worshiping Jesus on this day and doing the will of our father in heaven on this day and on Black Friday.

First, I think we should acknowledge a large portion of the population that doesn’t value Thanksgiving and see it merely as day off from work to eat turkey, and watch sports. Augusten Burroughs echoes many peoples position on Thanksgiving when he said, “Thanksgiving was nothing more than a pilgrim-created obstacle in the way of Christmas; a dead bird in the street that forced a brief detour.”  Thanksgiving does not have to be nor should it be just the beginning of the Christmas season and an excuse to eat so much food. One of the many things I am thankful for is that Thanksgiving has been an important time in my family, growing up Thanksgiving was always a time for family to gather and look beyond all our differences and embrace our love for one another. I am also thankful that my church takes it serious to observe this day and hold a service and dinner open to the community. I chose to not go the service and dinner at church and spend the day with my family.

I believe you can worship God where and when you are, you don’t need to go to a building reserved for reverence to render unto God what is God’s already. I think it might mean more if you live your life to and with God as worship than simply going to a physical church and worshiping like everyone else. I think the church is not just building, but a community committed to being agents of the Kingdom of God in our upside down world. True worship and service can and will transform our lives and those we into contact with in our daily travels.

I would like to share in the sentiment of Henry David Thoreau. “I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual…O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.” Our lives should be lived in gratefulness for who we really are and in perpetual thanksgiving for the riches, blessings, and gifts that have been given to us. I may be a romantic or idealist, but I think a proper response to life is a romantic one. The world while it can be brutal and harsh is full of wonderful and amazing glories. I recognize God in voices of animals, sounds of trees, murmings of water, singing of birds, and boom of thunder; I see God in my trails, defeats, success, and happiness. There is an overwhelming sense of God in our world, you only need eyes to see, ears to hears, and a heart to feel.  Ralph Waldo Emerson advises us to “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” Melody Beattie claims gratitude “turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”  Ephesians 5 one of things Paul instructs his readers to do is “At all times and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.”

Dietrich Bonheoffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison writes, “In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.”

There are many things for us to be thankful; it’s not so much that we have to find things to be thankful as finding the right attitude to bring to our life. The more grateful we are the more we will have to grateful for. If you have a job, a roof over your head, a person who loves you, and friends/family that cares for you you are far more fortunate than most; if you have one or more than these you still quite fortunate. I ask that you don’t take any of it for granted. Please, let those special people in your life how very special they are. Right now, as you read the words I have written there are people on the street huddling in dark alleyways that have none of those things who think no one, not even God cares for them. We should live our lives in such a way that our special people know how much they are loved and that we extend God’s limitless and unconditional love and grace to those who desperately need to know that God cares for everyone.

So, friends have a happy and fruitful thanksgiving and I hope each of you will take a moment today and think of all the many blessings and gifts this year has brought and all the many wonderful things the holiday season and the coming year will bring. I believe that 2012 will be a great, wonderful, and awesome year for everyone!

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