We are exactly one week away from celebrating my favorite holiday of the year. Thanksgiving rates very high on my “my favorite holidays” list, almost above Christmas and Easter. There are several reasons which taken together make this one of my favorite holidays.
First, it has yet to be taken advantage of by the professional advertisers. It cannot be commercialized. In case no one has observed it, the manufacturers and the stores who sell their wares jump right from Halloween to Christmas, skipping right over Thanksgiving. The only places where we see any sort of Thanksgiving hype is around the grocery stores and food counters.
Second, Thanksgiving is a patriotic and national holiday that does not celebrate either a military victory or a military defeat or sacrifice. It is simply a celebration of the triumph of the human soul through the hardships of a pioneering group of settlers in a new world. It is a profound illustration of those settlers demonstrating just how much they needed each other and proclaiming that through this annual celebration of the successful harvest they experienced over 400 year ago.
Third, Thanksgiving is a very nostalgic, home-centered and family-oriented holiday. It is one of the most heavily traveled times of the year as everyone seems drawn by a tremendously powerful magnetic force to celebrate with family and close friends. I have often thought of Thanksgiving as the “Holiday in the Key of F”, where the F stands for Food, Family and Football. A longtime fan of the Dallas Cowboys, that has always been a wonderful time just to sit back and relax and enjoy one another. When our extended family gets together on this holiday, there has always been a touch football game out in the back yard of wherever we have gathered. Just a warm and friendly time together — a wonderful experience.
But the fourth reason is perhaps the most important. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year because it is also a three-directional holiday. On this day, we celebrate in an inward, an outward, and an upward direction. Inwardly, at Thanksgiving I concentrate on my blessings. Starting with the table in front of me and the ones who prepared it, I express my gratitude for the blessings that I have experienced this past year.
The outward direction appears as I contemplate how I can help others to enjoy this holiday as well. Every year we have opened our home and our Thanksgiving dinner to what seems like a multitude of neighbors and friends who have nowhere else to go for this meal. But this holiday culminates in an upward direction, as I ultimately celebrate the fact that everything I have comes from God. This holiday almost forces me into an attitude of humility. The very fact that I am thankful for anything is an admission that I am dependent upon Almighty God for everything I have. His mercy, His abundance, His provision, His protection, and His grace all become the objects for our genuine gratitude at this time of the year.
When William Bradford, the governor of the Plymouth colony in 1623, issued the first proclamation for the celebration of thanksgiving, he called all of the Pilgrims to celebrate with him and “render thanksgiving to ye almighty God for all his blessings.”
Often, we simply find it difficult to be thankful, especially for things that seem to go wrong in our lives. I’ve been there and I know every one of us has also experienced times when we found it extremely difficult to be thankful for anything. Those times when the end of the money arrives before the end of the month and payday comes. Those times when no matter how much we seek reconciliation, it just will not occur, and those times when everything wrong seems to be magnified and everything right seems to be minimized. The Word of God challenges us to be thankful in all circumstances and for all circumstances — not only before they happen, and after they happen, but also while they are happening. (Check out Ephesians 5:20 and 1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Bible scholar Matthew Henry was once attacked by thieves and robbed of his purse. In reflection upon this significant event in his life, he wrote these words in his diary: “Let me be thankful. First, I was never robbed before. Second, although they took my purse, they didn’t take my life. Third, although they took my all, it was not much. Fourth, let me be thankful because it was I who was robbed and not I who did the robbing.”
This Thanksgiving, may I suggest that each of us takes some time just to pause, get alone and celebrate the day? I would encourage you not to allow this day to pass without expressing in some way, in your own way, the thankfulness that arises in your heart. However you do it, render your own thanksgiving to “ye almighty God”, and enjoy the whole experience.
And God bless…
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.