The Thanksgiving holiday and observance can hold a host of meanings for us as Americans, regardless of religious faith. It is what we call a “secular” holiday, so deemed by Congress and the President. Throughout our country’s history, our leaders have designated special days that are set aside for the purpose of giving thanks.
The celebration has its roots, however, not just in the Pilgrims’ gathering at the Plymouth settlement in 1621. With the modern observance of Thanksgiving, we see echoes of ancient harvest festivals from around the world. Peoples throughout history have seen the value and necessity of intentionally setting aside time to give thanks.
For the religious among us – no matter our faith tradition – Thanksgiving is an opportunity to turn our attention to the Creator, who provides for our sustenance and needs. It is a celebration of the gift that is the good earth, the bounty it provides, and our faithful stewardship for the needs of ourselves and others.
There are also any number of benefits we derive from the occasion that are worth noting – and celebrating!
For many of us, Thanksgiving is a family reunion. Relatives will travel from all over the world to be reunited with one another over food and fellowship. The roadways will be busy and the airlines will be booked for the busiest travel season of the year. For many, this is our one, yearly chance to catch up with our loved ones in (what is often) a busy and demanding world.
The holiday can also be expanded beyond family ties to become a gathering of friends. This year, my family is looking forward to hosting close friends at our own Thanksgiving table. On the day before the holiday, my youngest son will also be joining with some buddies in what they are calling “Friendsgiving.”
Thanksgiving can also be an opportunity to serve, such as stocking a church or community food pantry, volunteering at a food bank, or preparing a meal for the less fortunate. I am thankful for the ministry of First United Methodist Church, who will prepare hundreds of heals for fellow citizens here in Guntersville. I am also thankful that we at the Church of the Epiphany will assist with the cooking.
And let’s not forget all the wonderful food! Personally, I am blessed with a spouse who happens to be a phenomenal cook. At our own Thanksgiving table, we will enjoy turkey and dressing, a vast array of vegetable dishes, yeast rolls, and delicious desserts. While I don’t encourage gluttony for anyone, perhaps an exception can be made for such a feast(!)
Mostly, this holiday is a chance to simply give thanks: thanks to God, thanks for one another, and thanks for the blessings we’ve enjoyed throughout the year. If we could sum up all the joys of this occasion with one word, I would vote for “gratitude.”
I leave you with a special prayer used for this holiday in my own faith tradition – the Episcopal Church – and found in The Book of Common Prayer. Perhaps you might use it as you gather at the Thanksgiving table with family, friends, and loved ones:
“Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”