On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
We talk about the War on Christmas all the time–the ongoing effort by corporations and public institutions to maintain the pageantry while ignoring the One whom it was meant to honor. But despite all that effort, their warfare has only achieved marginal success. Not only are Christians still quite willing to point out the absence, the void they’re trying to create is so conspicuously Christ-shaped that it inevitably reminds everyone of the birth of Jesus anyway.
There is, however, another holiday in much greater danger. I am referring, of course, to Thanksgiving–far and away the greatest holiday Americans ever invented. It’s besieged on one side by the commercialization of Christmas. On our two extra days off work, more effort is made to participate in Black Friday–the celebration of unbridled greed that used to launch the Christmas shopping season–than to actually give thanks. On the other side of Thanksgiving, the growing tumor of Halloween is rapidly overtaking the entire season of Autumn. These days, October routinely sees Christmas and Halloween displays side-by-side, leaving no room in the landscape for anything else.
At the same time, Thanksgiving Day itself is under assault by the atomization of America. The core of our celebration is joining together with our families for a great feast. But more and more, that gathering is marked by strife. We’ve all been indoctrinated by film and television to see friends–those we choose for their similarity to ourselves–as our “real” family. We disdain the ones with whom we share our flesh and blood for petty reasons. Politics has also become the religion of many, which has lead to everything from meaningless contention at what should be a peaceful celebration to excommunicating family members for blaspheming political idols. And because the usual American rite of passage is to leave your family for college and move across the country for career, it’s become harder and harder to actually gather in the first place.
While the war on Thanksgiving may not be waged by government and corporation like the war on Christmas, it is certainly being waged by Satan. The devil would like nothing better than to remove thanks from our lips and gratitude from our hearts. This cultural shift away from thankfulness is a bad sign for America, for cultivating gratitude is of profound spiritual importance in any number of ways.
Gratitude is the antidote to entitlement. In reminding us that our blessings are gifts rather than our just rewards, we are saved from the bitterness of constant dissatisfaction when we feel we are given only or less than our due. The less grateful we are, the more we perceive the world as failing us personally.
Gathering to give thanks alongside our families works against the atomization wrought by American hyper-individualism. It reminds us that we never seized our lives and bodies for ourselves, but received them entirely as gifts from our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents who freely gave so much love so that we and our own children could live.
Thanksgiving moves us to acknowledge God. We do not thank the void or an impersonal universe; we only thank persons. And the Creator is the chief of these persons to whom we ought to give thanks.
Gratitude likewise reminds us of divine providence. God provides for our needs through means–through springtime and harvest, through parents, through workers, through everything which he created and still preserves. We do not live in the nihilistic worlds presented to us in modern fiction, but in a living world where goodness exists and in which God causes the sun to shine on us all. We are not simply abandoned to our own devices, but live in a world where the buck does not stop with us.
Feasting reminds us that there is good amidst the bad. Even when the world assails us with all manner of evils and privation, we can still take the time to remember the light we’ve been given in the darkness and that hard times come to an end by God’s grace. This will be all the more important as America descends into far greater hardships than we are used to experiencing.
The blessings of gratitude should propel us towards making sure that we give thanks within our own homes. The primary battleground of the war on Thanksgiving is in each of our households. Don’t let it end in defeat.
So go to church this Thursday and praise God. Gather with your family and tell them your love them. Enjoy their peculiarities. Host a meal or bring a dish to share with others. Pray together to join your voices in thanksgiving. Revel in everything good which God has showered upon you, and know in your heart that it is not of yourselves, but of the love your Creator has shown to you.
Happy Thanksgiving. May God bless you all.
Giving thanks to God is certainly meet, right, and salutary, at all times and all places. We do, however, need to expunge the noxious celebration of the Puritans (who were, at best, severely heterodox) attached to Thanksgiving in America.