In Layman's Terms: This Thanksgiving, remember we're blessed to be a blessing to others
Several years ago, when I was still a newspaper editor and columnist, I wrote what I thought was a “throwaway” piece about the holiday of Thanksgiving needing a better PR person. Instead of just writing what I thought was a filler column because I ran out of time prior to the holiday, I found out that I had hit a nerve in the Southern Utah community.
My premise was that we focus a lot of time and energy on Halloween, a day I enjoy because I like seeing people have fun by dressing up in costumes and enjoying the moment. As soon as the calendar turns from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1, however, we tend to skip over the significance of Thanksgiving and shift our focus instead to Christmas.
People jumped on board my unintended bandwagon. We had letters to the editor flood in advocating for more attention to be given to Thanksgiving. I got invited by an elementary school teacher to come talk to her class about the holiday. College marketing class members took my column, put together a mock campaign for the Thanksgiving holiday and sent me a packet of their work.
I guess I wasn’t alone in thinking Thanksgiving gets short-changed in the holiday-attention department.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am a huge fan of Christmas. As a Christian, I hold Christmas among the most holy days of the year. In my opinion, Christmas is second only to Easter. But given all the marketing that goes into Halloween and then into Christmas, it seems like Thanksgiving gets cheated. And yet, think of all of the great things we tend to enjoy because of Thanksgiving.
It all starts with the turkey.
Thanksgiving tends to be one of the few times during the year when the sweet smell of cooked turkey enters our houses. And thanks to that turkey, we get to debate the virtues of dark meat vs. white meat (white meat is better for me, but dark meat always has been my favorite), wrangle over the wishbone and, of course, enjoy the nap that seems to overtake us that day. The science appears to unsettled as to whether the chemical Tryptophan found in turkeys makes us sleepy or if it’s just because we gorge ourselves. The point is, this bird that can’t fly plays a central role in raising our spirits on this holiday – from the crafts our kids make in elementary school each November to the meal we enjoy.
Many of us also enjoy family time. Somebody has to eat all that food, right? OK, so that’s not the primary reason people get together. But it is often the meal that provides the gathering point for families, many of whom only get together on this fourth Thursday of each November.
We talked turkey a few moments ago, but what about the other edible pieces of enjoyment? Mashed potatoes (yum), green bean casserole (yum), cranberries (eh, not a fan) macaroni salad (my wife’s recipe is a family favorite, double yum) and, of course, pumpkin pie (with whipped cream or not, both yum) are staples of the Thanksgiving dinner table.
Our family's holiday typically starts by watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. We enjoy the musicians (even though they often are lip-syncing), the creativity of the floats, the balloons and the appearance at the very end of Santa Claus.
And as a Dallas Cowboys fan, I can’t ignore the joy that is football on Thanksgiving day.
Of course, at the center of all of this – OK, so maybe not football – is our Creator. God provides for us, and it is that bounty that we celebrate on Thanksgiving day. It’s a tradition that really has its roots very early in the Old Testament. In Exodus and Deuteronomy, we read about the seven sacred annual feasts of remembrance God directed the ancient Israelites to celebrate each year. Besides a chance to enjoy good food, these rituals provided a template of sorts for followers of God to give thanks for the many blessings bestowed on us all throughout the year. I want to focus on three of those feasts.
Exodus 23:14-16 says:
“You should observe a festival for me three times a year. Observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread, as I commanded you. Eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, because it was in that month that you came out of Egypt.
No one should appear before me empty-handed. Observe the Harvest Festival for the early produce of your crops that you planted in the field, and the Gathering Festival at the end of the year, when you gather your crop of fruit from the field.” (CEB)
Known respectively as the feasts of Unleavened Bread or Passover, Weeks or Harvest, and Tabernacles or Booths, these events celebrated deliverance – from slavery via God’s rescue of His chosen people, from chaos via sharing of The Law, and from hunger via productivity of the land.
As Christians, we recognize our heritage with the descendants of Abraham, the family story of the Jews told in the Bible. Remember, Jesus was a Jew and likely followed the commands to celebrate these feasts. We may not follow all of the Jewish customs today, but we do gather each November to celebrate our own feast of Thanksgiving.
Of course, as we enjoy turkey, more side dishes than we can possibly eat and pie, many people in our neighborhoods do not have enough to eat on a regular day, let alone on what is supposed to be a festive holiday. Please keep these people in your prayers as you say grace before your meal Thanksgiving day.
Perhaps your church has an idea for how to address hunger in your community? Maybe you need some seed money to get a new ministry to the impoverished up and running. If so, check out some details about the Great Plains Conference’s “Poverty Alleviation Initiative”
and download a grant application
. Applications are due at the end of November, but there is still time to gather your thoughts, apply and get started in sharing your blessings with people who are struggling.
You’ve probably heard the saying that “We are blessed to be a blessing” to others. Not only is it a catchy phrase, but it’s Biblical, from Genesis 12:2, which says, “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (NRSV)
To be a blessing, we have to recognize we are, indeed, blessed. So, please, have a great Thanksgiving holiday. Celebrate our feast of Thanksgiving. Enjoy your family. Go ahead and enjoy the dark meat of that turkey. Eat the cranberries, if you must. Have a slice of pie for me. And go Cowboys!
Above all, remember that you have been blessed.
Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church. He can be reached via phone at 402-464-5994, ext. 113, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Great Plains Annual Conference or the United Methodist Church. Follow him on Twitter, @ToddSeifert.