There are many things to be said about our current age, filled as it is with technological marvels that have brought the whole world within immediate reach, as well as the great advances of scientific knowledge which has given us so many benefits. But along the way, in our personal and corporate lives, changing values have often left us with spiritual gaps which show little sign of being filled. Thanksgiving, to my mind, is an indicator of that spiritual loss.
With roots which are both religious and part of our national heritage, the holiday we mark as Thanksgiving seems to have lost much of its importance and meaning. Within recent memory, Thanksgiving was eagerly anticipated as the one time when families made their journeys “to grandmother’s house” or some other designated relative who would host the feast. Admittedly, the bulk of the work of preparation and later cleaning up fell to the women, but I recall sisters and daughters and aunts and female cousins gathered around the kitchen, talking and laughing incessantly, bringing each other up to date on what was happening in their lives and enjoying the togetherness. It was not an option to be absent from this family gathering, regardless of your feelings about certain members of the tribe—being together on or near the day was an unspoken rule everyone understood and respected.
I read recently that, while Thanksgiving time is still the busiest travel season of the year, the night before Thanksgiving is also the busiest bar night—when young people opt to be with their friends rather than join the family. It’s a day filled with football as well as food, but not necessarily a time when people attend church services—which frequently were community events gathering a variety of people to offer prayers of gratitude for their blessings.
The issue seems to be that thanksgiving itself has become an attitude gone with the winds of change. We consider that all we have (and as a society, we seem to have a lot!) is rightly ours, bought and paid for by us, rather than a measure of God’s blessing. Without a center which recognizes God’s presence in anything we do, why do we need to “thank” anyone?
The disappearance of Thanksgiving as a special moment of quiet and appreciation shared with family has been hastened by the rush to anticipate seasons of spending in the marketplaces. Hallowe’en is now big business, so we see its items as early as September—about the time I saw my first Christmas tree displays in a department store this year! Instead of having the Thanksgiving parade mark the onset of the Christmas shopping season, it has been passed over by earlier campaigns and the day itself threatened by the specter of Black Friday sales.
But before this article becomes a mere rant, let me offer this thought. We are a nation blessed and richly so. We need to recognize that the One who gives us both life and its richness deserves some time set aside for giving thanks, as well as for special appreciation of our families who make the years of our lives memorable by their love and support. If Thanksgiving is to be anything more than the gearing-up of our consumerism, let us pause and celebrate those things which are not for sale, and for which we cannot repay except by thankful recognition of the Lord who gives all good things and the appreciation of our family members so long as they can be with us. For we should never forget that all we are and all we have are truly gifts from God, the giver of all good things.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever. Ps 136:1