In some ways, Thanksgiving is possibly the most Christian of all American holidays. And I’m including Christmas and Easter, at least in their popular expressions.
In many ways, most of the other American holidays have been turned into excuses for commecialism and greed, and while “they” appear to be trying the same with Thanksgiving, it has a little more built-in resistance to the commercial spirit. As evidence, witness the following:
Christmas often seems to have- become all about the presents. Retailers love it because it produces a massive flood of buying and selling, kids love it often because they get massive amounts of new stuff. The secular icon of Christmas, Santa Claus, is someone who enables and encourages getting more stuff.
Easter is in some ways much the same: its lapine secular icon brings chocolate and candy, and it’s all about getting stuff.
Halloween is another excuse for getting sweets, and so, in may ways, is Valentine’s Day.
All of them so often seem to promote greed, covetousness and dissatisfaction: “getting more stuff” becoming “what I’ve got isn’t good enough”.
Thanksgiving, though, is a day of being thankful for what you have already. A day of calling to mind blessings received and celebration not of getting more, but of having received. Gratitude is naturally difficult to commercialise, because it is the antithesis of the commercial spirit.
In many ways, gratitude expresses the essence of the Christian life. Jesus has already done the work, achieved our salvation, rescued us from the corruption that comes with setting ourselves at the centre of it all. Our role is not to do this or that good deed to try to earn it, as if God is like Santa and only brings gifts to good little girls and boys, in other words, to those who deserve it.
Because if we’re honest, we none of us deserve it. We’ve all been self-centred, hurt people, deceived and been deceived.
But God gives His gifts anyway. He gives as a gift that which we cannot earn. We can’t buy it with our own good works because it isn’t for sale to begin with.
Receiving with gratitude is the only appropriate response.
Thanksgiving Day is also a time of gathering together in celebration. There are big family feasts. It’s a party.
It’s altogether appropriate that Heaven is described in the Bible as a feast. Grateful receiving of a gift of that magnitude is naturally a cause of great joy. You want to celebrate. Lavish feasts can be held because of the generosity of the Giver.
If we ever get to a place in which our Christianity is all dour rule-keeping and work, we are becoming like the elder son in Jesus’ parable. The one who complained that “all these years I’ve been slaving for you and you never gave me even a young goat so that I could celebrate with my friends”. The one who had received his half of the inheritance at the same time as the younger one, but who was so caught up in trying to earn his father’s favour that he apparently missed it. When the father said “all I have is yours”, he wasn’t speaking hyperbole. The elder son could have had a party any time he wanted; instead, he thought he had to be in slavery because that’s what the father wanted.
Well, the Father has no slaves, only sons. And He delights to bless, simply because He can. Thanksgiving is the right response.
Christianity is at its root a life lived in gratitude for what we have received. The Thanksgiving holiday puts flesh on that, makes it visible.
So let us then give thanks for what we have received.