If your family is like mine, you will be spending this Thanksgiving week filled with a massive amount of love, joy, and food! Although the “First Thanksgiving” is a wonderful American tradition, countries around the world share in a similar harvest feast of thanksgiving dating all the way back to ancient Greece (and probably much further). And that should not be too surprising, why not celebrate the fruits of our labors and the blessings from above as we reap the harvest and prepare for the cold. But in America, are we celebrating a historically Christian Thanksgiving that has become secular? Or has Thanksgiving always been completely separate from Christianity?
From a Christian perspective, Thanksgiving is so much more than a simple dinner rewarding us for a year of labor; at least it should be. The American tradition of Thanksgiving has lost its true purpose as it grew into a secular holiday. To see what I really mean, let’s look at the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in October. Obviously a much different holiday since its observance is commanded in the Old Testament. However, it is still a holiday celebrating the deliverance and provision by God.
Let’s Compare: Jewish Sukkot vs Christian Thanksgiving
Sukkot is a weeklong celebration completely dedicated to giving thanks to God. Celebrated in the remembrance of God’s favor as He delivered the Hebrews from Egyptian captivity. Special “booths” are built for eating and prayer. Some say these booths are similar to those you would have seen as the Hebrews wondered in the desert. Work is forbidden during the first two days and even pilgrimages are required every seven years. There is a focus on hospitality, prayer, humility, abandonment of materialism and spirituality. Unlike anything most Christians know today, Sukkot is about God. A truly religious holiday where the faithful reflect on their faith, give thanks for God’s provision, and share the history of their faith with one another.
Sukkot is only one of many Jewish holidays whose complete focus is on God. But what is the point discussing a Jewish harvest festival just before Thanksgiving? It is about perspective. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by a people who were escaping religious persecution. They were trying to discover a new land where they could freely worship God in the way they believed. The pilgrims would not have survived without the help from the Wampanoag tribe. Therefore, they held a thanksgiving feast to thank their newfound friends. But this was based on an English tradition to praise God for a bountiful harvest. These religious travelers most definitely would have placed God at the center of this feast. They would have prayed and thanked God for providing for their needs. Rewarding their leap of faith with enough food for the coming winter.
If not God, then Whom?
Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863 under a presidential proclamation by Abraham Lincoln as a secular holiday. Why is this important? Because it only took Americans 242 years to forget the true focus and roots of this holiday. We call it “Thanksgiving,” but thanksgiving to whom? Our holiday is not focused on providing thanksgiving to the native Americans who risked everything to help our forefathers. And today, we definitely do not come together and focus on giving thanks to God as the pilgrims did. It is called “thanksgiving,” or giving thanks, not “Thankfulness.” So, if not God, to whom are we giving thanks?
For thousands of years Sukkot has placed its sole focus on God and thanksgiving for what He provides. However, it only took 242 years for Americans to completely forget our own divine deliverance. Some would make the argument that comparing Jewish culture to a country is apples and oranges. But our country was founded on Christian principles, ideologies, and freedoms. If you do not believe me, recite the pledge of allegiance or take a glance at our currency. We were once a Christian nation. But now we are a nation forgetting the very God that Blessed us with prosperity. And it is beginning to show.
The Fall of Religion and the Rise of Secular Holidays
Still not convinced? Christmas and Easter have slowly become secular as well. Santa Claus and gifts have replaced the birth of Christ. Bunnies and pastel eggs have replaced the single greatest event in human history. Compare Hannukah to Christmas and consider which has become the secular holiday. How long before these holidays become so secularized that Jesus is no longer a part of our celebration? For many Americans, that has already happened. How can Jewish holidays last for thousands of years without changing while the meaning of Christian holidays slowly fade into oblivion? The truth is about where our focus lies.
It is no wonder the Jewish nation are God’s chosen people. Their nation is defined by their faith, not popular opinion. This Thanksgiving holiday let’s make God our focus and thank Him for the miracle that was celebrated in 1621. Thank God for His divine intervention in your own life. This Thanksgiving, I will thank God for the beautiful wife He delivered me who shaped the person I am today. For the two beautiful young boys who bring my heart so much joy. For the abundance and comfort, He has placed in my life that I do not deserve. And for the wonderful purpose He has for my life.
I will also thank my Heavenly Father for this wonderful country in which I live. But I will also tell my God that I know that nations rise and fall like ocean tides. But my faith is in Him who has always been and will always be. For that, I am truly thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving and God bless you all, from our family to yours.
“You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.“
Written by Jon Frederick