A Reminiscence of Thanksgivings Past
by Randy Thompson
I think it’s sad that we, as a country, no longer honor the celebration of Thanksgiving as we once did. Now, it is little more than a kick-off for Christmas-related consumerism, with people showing up at Walmart Thanksgiving Day for “door buster” deals, provided they’re not at home watching whatever NFL games are on TV.
If you will, allow me, an old man, to reminisce a bit. . .
I remember when Thanksgiving stood on its own as a holiday. As a child, I loved the October Halloween decorations at the five-and-ten store near our home, and just as much enjoyed the Thanksgiving decorations of November. Christmas appeared only when Thanksgiving was over and done. I loved the decorative pumpkins, the shocks of wheat, and the cornucopias full of fruits and vegetables. I loved the cardboard, cut-out pilgrims and turkeys. I loved all of it. Yes, this was nothing more than sentimental nostalgia in suburban Southern California, but it harked back to simpler, agricultural times, when fall’s harvest was viewed as God’s blessing and the hope of nourishment over the long winter.
I’d like to suggest that such sentimental nostalgia is healthy and good. It’s good to remember when we really did live off the land, and that we lived and ate at the mercy of drought, storm, and frost. Thanksgiving, with all its imagery of pilgrims, Indians, harvests and cornucopias, was a time to remember that our food really didn’t come from the local supermarket, but from the farmers that grew it, and who first-hand knew that a harvest was a blessing of God, and not to be presumed. The cardboard cut-outs of wheat shocks and turkeys served to remind us that our food didn’t just come in cans and cellophane wrap and plastic trays, but that it came from real places and from real people who knew that every harvest was a grace from God.
Sadly, this time of farm and harvest nostalgia has given way to the commercialized behemoths of Halloween and Christmas, where November is no longer the time for Thanksgiving, but the time for taking down Halloween decorations and putting up the Christmas decorations. It’s a time for before-dawn shopping, football games, and Christmas-themed movies on the Hallmark Channel.
It is indeed still a family time, when people go to great lengths to go home “for the holidays,” of which Thanksgiving is the precursor. It is a time of Norman Rockwell expectations of a family around a dinner table, yet our families have become ever more broken and fragmented. The reality of family too often betrays our hope for warmth, acceptance, and intimacy. We go “home” for the holidays, and find that we can’t wait to get back to our real homes.
Most of all, we spiritually sleep-walk through Thanksgiving oblivious to the purpose of the holiday, which is thanks-giving. A feast to celebrate God’s blessing of a good harvest has become merely a dining extravaganza. The food is no longer a sign of God’s presence and blessing, but is merely food. A time out from shopping, working and going about our normal lives.
But, that wasn’t the only purpose of this holiday. President Abraham Lincoln, in his Proclamation of a Day of Thanksgiving, said
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 I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, 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 interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
Thanksgiving was intended to be a special time. Not only were we to express our thanks for God’s “singular deliverances and blessings,” it was also a reflective time, a time to ask God to “heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes.” Then, the wounds of the nation were those we inflicted on ourselves in a great civil war. Now, our wounds are just as deep, if not as bloody.
If we are called to thank God and praise God for his “deliverances and blessings,” we are also called to implore God’s healing of our nation’s woundedness.
So, this Thanksgiving, put away the Christmas advertising and turn down the football game, and share a special meal together with those you love, remembering that this meal is an expression of gratitude for blessings received, and a reminder of wounds that need to be healed. Let it be a joyful, grateful meal, but let it also be a reflective one, a reminder that we have fallen far short of the righteousness of a God who loves and blesses all the same.