Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, one that I’m determined not to allow our culture to hijack or separate from its faith-based roots. It has already happened with other Christian holidays—Christ’s resurrection has been replaced by chocolate bunnies and eggs, Christmas by Santa Claus and consumerism. Thanksgiving is quickly becoming a day to overindulge, watch football, and shop for bargains.
But the roots of Thanksgiving, like Christmas and Easter, are biblical. The Pilgrims got the idea for a harvest celebration from the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles—in spite of what my daughter’s eighth grade social studies book said. The text never mentioned God and said that the Pilgrims were thanking the Indians! When Abraham Lincoln began our modern-day celebration in 1863 it was as a religious holiday. He declared that the U.S. should observe “a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
I decided to consult the same source as the Pilgrims for my family’s Thanksgiving celebration. Deuteronomy 16:13-15 says: “Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress.” Feasting for seven days may not be realistic but one day isn’t nearly long enough to thank God for all my blessings—chief among them, my salvation. We try to make the long weekend a time of rest from the busyness and craziness of life, setting aside time to enjoy the people around us, and to thank God for the blessings of the past year.
“Be joyful at your feast—” Joyful! Thanksgiving isn’t the time to nurse grudges and old wounds, it’s the time for a brand new start. A few days before the Feast of Tabernacles, God’s people knelt before Him on Yom Kippur and thoroughly examined their lives, confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness. And before daring to approach Him, they were commanded to mend any broken relationships and seek forgiveness from those they’ve harmed—and to extend forgiveness to those who asked. Imagine how joyful Thanksgiving Day would be if we celebrated it with a clean slate—a new beginning with God and with each other.
“…you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.” While I don’t have any maidservants (sigh), it’s a tradition in our family to invite people who are far from home or without family to feast with us. My husband and I started this tradition when we were “aliens” ourselves, living in South America. We invited a dozen expatriate friends to join us for Thanksgiving—and every year since then, our meal hasn’t been complete without the “aliens, fatherless and widows” at our table.
“For seven days celebrate the feast to the Lord your God . . .” I never want to forget that this is a feast dedicated to praising and thanking God. I love it that our church has a Thanksgiving Day worship service. God is at the center of our day, not the turkey. Our family also spends time around the table talking about our faith and our faithful God.
“For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands . . .” It’s interesting that Abraham Lincoln instituted Thanksgiving in the middle of the Civil War, a time of enormous hardship in our nation. I try to remember that God can bring blessings from our hardest trials, whether our “harvest” is big or small. The most painful times in my life were when I’ve drawn the closest to Him.
“…and your joy will be complete.” Joy! Complete—with nothing lacking. Our lives will overflow with joy when we take time to express our gratitude to our God, the source of all our blessings.