Thanksgiving

The Underside of Thanksgiving

Photo via mythja/Shutterstock.com

I love Thanksgiving.

I love the food, the fellowship, the friends and family, the football, and did I mention that I love the food.  Unashamedly it might very well be my favorite holiday.  Yet, despite all my warm feelings about Thanksgiving, I am not blind to its historical shortcomings. 

As Jane Kamensky says, “…holidays say much less about who we really were in some specific Then, than about who we want to be in an ever changing Now.” I think she’s right about this.  In so many cases, our national celebrations and observances are mere expressions of our collective aspirations and not our actuality.  One clear example of this is the history and practice of the Thanksgiving holiday.

As it goes, every year people throughout this nation gather for a commemorative feast of sorts where we give praises to God for the individual and collective blessings bestowed upon us.  This tradition goes back to the 17th century when the New England colonists, also known as pilgrims, celebrated their first harvest in the New World. 

On the surface, this seems harmless enough but a closer reading of history tells a more dubious story. 

#GivingTuesday -- A Day to Give Back

#GivingTuesday: a day to give instead of consume. Photo courtesy of GivingTuesday.org

“Gray” Thursday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday — and Giving Tuesday? For the second year in a row, nonprofits, businesses, and individuals are coming together to create a national day of giving on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. 

Why a national day of giving? Last year, New York’s 92nd Street Y, with the support of the United Nations Foundation, catalyzed the idea of adding a national day of giving to kick off the holiday giving season. The goal was to drive donations of time, money, or services to charities with the same enthusiasm that shoppers have on the shopping days surrounding Thanksgiving. 

A Very Cheney Thanksgiving

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At Thanksgiving, childhood rivalries often live on, even when we’ve grown. Auremar/Shutterstock

I sympathize with the Cheney family this Thanksgiving. Siblings arguing with each other and claiming that Dad is on their side — geez, sounds too familiar for comfort. I have four siblings and when we were kids we were a rough and tumble pack, openly vying for our parents’ approval. We relished ratting each other out. The fickle finger of accusation waving wildly, we’d shout things like “She started it!” “It was his idea!” or “I told her you’d be mad!” Oh, we had a million ways to stay in our parents’ good graces.

You’d think it all might have been about avoiding punishment, and I guess that was part of it. But even though our parents can’t ground us anymore, we tend to search their faces as if we were contestants awaiting our score on Dancing With the Stars. Now we tease each other about who is in the No. 1 spot at any given moment, and how it shifts with a good deed done or misstep in our duty as loving offspring. (FYI, I am taking my parents to see A Christmas Carol at the Drury Lane Theater near Chicago and making them a prime rib dinner afterwards. That should vault me to No. 1 for a week or two!)

The holidays are a perfect arena for this sort of combat and we can take some small comfort that even the Cheneys are not immune. But their problems are not quite like ours, because they are a public family and their disputes have political ramifications. Who wins the Cheney dinner table argument about marriage quality is not just about their family. It resonates through Republican politics and if Liz Cheney becomes their next senator, it may be about Wyoming families as well. But in another way, this family rivalry is like any other because it’s not just about politics. Mary Cheney and her wife, Heather Poe, who have two children together, feel betrayed by Liz. As Heather posted on Facebook: “Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 – she didn’t hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us.” 

Feast with Your Family this Thanksgiving; Then Fast with Us Next Week -- for Families in Great Distress

Mementos in the fasting tent in remembrance of those who have come before us. Photo: Sojourners/Brandon Hook

The debate about immigration reform has been very productive in America over these past several years. And that debate has been won — by those who favor a common sense agenda for reform.

Two out of every three Americans now favor fixing our broken immigration system — two out of three! According to a recent report by the Public Religion Research Institute, 65 percent of Americans say that the U.S. immigration system is either completely or mostly broken. That same report found that 63 percent of Americans favor immigration reform that creates a pathway to citizenship, crossing party and religious lines. 60 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents, and 73 percent of Democrats favor a pathway to citizenship.

However, a minority of lawmakers — almost all white legislators in artificially gerrymandered white Congressional districts — is blocking a democratic vote on immigration reform. The Senate has already passed a bipartisan bill to reform the immigration system; written and forged by an impressive coalition of Republican and Democratic Senate leaders. And if a similar bill was put to a vote in the House of Representatives, it would also pass.

Requiem for a Holiday

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Will forgoing sales on Thanksgiving put a damper on one’s holiday shopping? Lena Pan/Shutterstock

Tomorrow, millions of people will gather across this great nation to celebrate Thanksgiving: the time in our calendar where we pause to give thanks for the year that has past, for family, loved ones, new additions and to remember those that have gone on before us. We share stories, we laugh, we cry — and for many of us we eat too much. For centuries, families have gathered together to pause and to say thanks, even if it is just for one day.

This year, however, I am going to make a bold statement: I am declaring that Thanksgiving to some is obsolete, if not dead. Why such the bold statement? It seems that since the day after Halloween, the focus has been on lights, bows, trees, candy canes, Santa and the Christmas story. In a mad dash to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and in the midst of people complaining about the store employee’s not saying “Merry Christmas,” we have forgotten to stop and be thankful.

A Twist on the Thankfulness Trend

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Is there anything nontraditional for which you’re thankful?

It’s that time of year when Thanksgiving reminds us to be thankful. Many people use this time to acknowledge parts of their lives for which they are grateful, whether that means sharing around the Thanksgiving table or posting daily “thanks” on social media. Certainly, we have many reasons to be grateful, from food and shelter, to having choices in our own lives. It is important to jar ourselves out of taking much of what we have for granted.

I want, however, to challenge you think about your reasons to be thankful a little differently. Instead of thinking about the typical “good” parts of life for which you are thankful, consider parts of your life that you can be thankful for even though 1) others may see your reasons as negative or 2) you may see them as trials yourself. Trials or not, consider the redemptive strains present in all areas in your life, not just the ones you would usually say while waiting for someone to pass you the mashed potatoes.

Day 13 and 14: Fasting Is Our Cross

Cross emblems handed out to those who are fasting. Photo: Brandon Hook/Sojourners

(Editors Note: This post continues updates from Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for Sojourners, as she experiences the "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship," taking place on the National Mall.)

Entering Day 13 of my #Fast4Families. Day 12 was holy ground for me — a crossroads. I woke up that morning sensing God's call to move back into the tent during Thanksgiving week and through Thanksgiving weekend. I did that for the first two days and it was hard on my body. When I left the tent and went back to work, I continued the fast by drinking homemade clear vegetable broth twice a day and fruit juice in the morning. That made it possible for me to continue the fast and still work. 

But now, we're talking about Thanksgiving week. There's no need to worry about being able to work. Sojourners office will be pretty much closed from Wednesday through the weekend. I talked with one of the leading organizers of the #Fast4Families tent yesterday. I told her I'm considering moving into the tent for the week, but I'd need to be able to take V8 a couple of times a day. This was her response: "In order to maintain the integrity of the fast that we have run so far, we can only allow water only fasting while in the tent."

Thanksgiving? Bah, humbug

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Becoming more like Scrooge might not be so bad. MT511/Shutterstock

Scrooge is convinced that he has earned all that he has. His pile of money? It’s all that matters to him, and he believes that he built it all by himself. There’s no reason to show gratitude to anyone else.

Be thankful? Bah, humbug.

Could that be one of the reasons we’ve turned Thanksgiving into just another shopping day? We don’t recognize the gifts, so we don’t recognize the giver.

On Scripture: The Death of Thanksgiving (Colossians 1:11-20)

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Macy's has caused a Thanksgiving stir by opening stores on the holiday. littleny / Shutterstock

Macy's decided to open its doors to shoppers on Thanksgiving Day at 8:00 p.m. Time magazine reports that people are denouncing the move as “greedy, misguided, and unfair to the employees being forced to work on a day traditionally reserved for family.”So how is Thanksgiving doing? Is it deceased, or has its death been greatly exaggerated?

The apostle Paul must have wondered about this when he wrote his letter to the Colossians, a group of Christians living along a main roadway in Asia Minor — what is now modern Turkey. They were pulled between the values of their faith and the values of their culture, much as we are today. Paul warned them, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

These words ring true today, don’t they? We know the philosophy of trying to spend ourselves out of economic troubles. The empty deceit of a sales pitch. The human tradition of making the holidays an orgy of consumption. The elemental spirits of the universe that lure us away from Jesus Christ.

Paul asked the Colossians, and he asks us, “Why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?” (2:20). It’s a good question, one that we should ask ourselves on Thanksgiving Day, and every day.

Thanksgiving, Hanukkah Converge on 'Thanksgivukkah' for First Time Since 1888

The Menurkey (plaster edition) Photo via RNS/courtesy www.menurkey.com

It last happened in 1888 and, according to one calculation, won’t happen again for another 77,798 years: the convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.

This year, Nov. 28 is Thanksgiving and the first full day of the eight-day Jewish festival of lights, which begins at sundown the previous night.

For many Jewish Americans, this is no trivial convergence, but a once-in-an-eternity opportunity to simultaneously celebrate two favorite holidays, one quintessentially American, the other quintessentially Jewish.

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