For most of my life, Thanksgiving was a day to give thanks to God for the bounty that we have been given in this land and to enjoy a bounteous feast. It has been a time of family, friends, football, and fond memories.
I grew up with the image of the pilgrims and the Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribe enjoying a fall harvest celebration together. The images associated with Thanksgiving relate to my early years of education and pictures associated with that event such as The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth by Jennie Brownscombe.
My image of Thanksgiving was always positive, innocent, and uplifting. If you had asked me, “Is Thanksgiving controversial?” I would have been surprised that the question would have been asked.
However, I have learned that our national day of Thanksgiving is indeed controversial. I learned of many facts and number of controversies associated with the day by reading, Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience by Melanie Kirkpatrick.
The controversies concerning Thanksgiving range from minor details to significant issues, at least in some people’s minds. Some examples of the controversies:
- The offering of Thanksgiving was probably not in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621.
- The giving of thanks was a part of Native American harvest celebrations long before the Pilgrims.
- Additionally, cases can be made for pre-Plymouth thanksgivings, by Spanish, Huguenot, and other English immigrants from Europe.
- It is doubtful Thanksgiving took place on the fourth Thursday in November.
- It is possible turkey, which is Thanksgiving mainstay, was not a part of the Pilgrim thanksgiving.
- There are some Native Americans who reject the holiday viewing it as the beginning of the end for the indigenous peoples of North America.
- The Zinn Foundation provides schools with an essay on the history of Thanksgiving which informs students:
- The holiday is used by government leaders as a political tool.
- Governor William Bradford’s On Plymouth Plantation is a “fable” and an “early example of ‘Euro think.”
- As for Thanksgiving Day itself, students are informed the day celebrates “aggression and enslavement.”
I don’t site these controversies to put a damper on Thanksgiving, but to make a point about the way things work in our world. Man seems to be able to make a mess of even a day of thanksgiving.
However, we, as Christians, we seek to look beyond this world to our Creator. Looking to the Creator of heaven and earth is what a day of thanksgiving is all about.
If you observe Thanksgiving on this coming Thursday, tune out the controversies, the football, and other worldly distractions. Seek to focus on your thankfulness to God who has given you life, family, blessings, and, if you are feasting that day, all the food on the table.
The Bible is replete with the word “thanks” which is worthy of our exploration before Thanksgiving. Psalm 136 is especially meaningful in that it reminds us to give thanks to God.
Because God’s great mercy upon us and all mankind, endures forever.
Have a truly thankful Thanksgiving Day.