The True Meaning of the Thanksgiving Holiday 

The True Meaning of the Thanksgiving Holiday 

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes

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Brent Pollard

Hopefully, those within the United States enjoyed a safe and joyous Thanksgiving holiday yesterday. Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that has come under attack by secular humanist forces in recent years. Worse than merely shifting the focus to turkey and American football, some people are trying to attack the holiday based on injustices perpetrated against the American Indian population over a century ago. While true that the “Thanksgiving feast” in seventeenth-century Plymouth serves as a romantic backdrop to our current holiday, we should not forget that days of giving thanks is not limited to one group or one time.  

 

Many countries observe some Thanksgiving holiday today. These observances are typically about the giving of thanks for the bounty of the harvest. They may reflect a pagan rather than Christian influence. However, to single out the United States’ practice as a matter of perpetuating injustice is a move by those seeking to erase American history with its Judeo-Christian values. The removal of said Judeo-Christian values are necessary to create the secular humanistic state esteemed by the disciples of Karl Marx. It is not an exaggeration to say we are in the midst of a great cultural war here within the United States. The winner of this cultural war will determine whether the United States continues to be free or becomes despotic. I realize that may sound like hyperbole on my part. Still, the Founding Fathers were clear in emphasizing that only religious people could maintain the liberties enshrined within the Constitution.  

Thus, we find the American Thanksgiving holiday’s actual genesis in 1789, the year of the United States Constitution’s ratification. President George Washington wrote that Congress had tasked him to declare a day of Thanksgiving. The purpose of this day was to thank God for blessing the newly-formed United States with peace and prosperity. A cursory examination of all of the Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations demonstrates the common theme of acknowledging and thanking Providence. Many Presidents likewise include an exhortation to remember the less fortunate and spend the day in service to others. President John Adams approached it differently. He asked people to fast on Thanksgiving and include with their prayers those of penitence, acknowledging national sins. How novel!  

Thomas Jefferson balked at the idea of making Thanksgiving Proclamations. He thought it smacked too much of enjoining the populace to some State religion. I believe Jefferson was mistaken, but it should help you understand that this holiday has been one long conceived as religious in tone. After Jefferson’s successor, Madison, the practice of the President giving a Thanksgiving Proclamation fell by the wayside until the Civil War. At the behest of Secretary Seward and a private citizen, Sara Josepha Hale, Lincoln reinstated the practice of issuing Thanksgiving Proclamations. Essentially, Lincoln helped make Thanksgiving an annual observance. It would not be until 1941, though, that the federal government made Thanksgiving an official holiday. Except for President Garfield, who died from an assassin’s bullet, every President since Lincoln has issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation, regardless of party affiliation.   

The beloved Norman Rockwell contributed to the iconic depiction of Thanksgiving with his painting “The Freedom from Want” in 1943. (It was a part of Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” series.) A patriarch and matriarch stand at the head of the table around which the family has gathered. The matriarch has prepared a sumptuous turkey feast. Delight fills the faces of all assembled. For me, however, the best Rockwell depiction of Thanksgiving was the last Thanksgiving cover he would paint for The Saturday Evening Post in 1951. He entitled that painting “Saying Grace.” A “grandmother” and a little boy sits in a restaurant. Their heads are bowed in prayer as others look on. The looks given by their tablemates seem to show amusement or curiosity. (Frankly, they seem to be reacting as if it were the first time they have seen this behavior.) Within those brush strokes, Rockwell has, to me, captured the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Amid the rush of a secular world, we pause, giving our thanks to God for even the simple meal. It matters not if others are willing likewise to thank God.  

 

I fully expect that should God allow time to continue that we will see an assault on the Thanksgiving holiday of 2021 since that would mark 400 years after Plymouth. Again, secular humanists want to take God from the picture. They wish to define the holiday as an observance in which we celebrate the rape and plunder of indigenous peoples by calling their seized property our possession. Yet, such critics demonstrate ignorance also of that original Plymouth feast. Thanksgiving is not about what we have. Thanksgiving is about acknowledging our Benefactor. It is a day for our nation to pause and admit that we would not be here without the Providence of God. And, as we count our blessings, we are motivated to show mercy to our neighbor as God has shown mercy to us. 

Works Consulted and Further Reading 

“Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association,www.mountvernon.org/education/primary-sources-2/article/thanksgiving-proclamation-of-1789/

 

Maranzani, Barbara. “How the ‘Mother of Thanksgiving’ Lobbied Abraham Lincoln to Proclaim the National Holiday.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 3 Oct. 2013, www.history.com/news/abraham-lincoln-and-the-mother-of-thanksgiving

 

Miller, Cheryl. What So Proudly We Hail, What So Proudly We Hail, 30 Apr. 2013, www.whatsoproudlywehail.org/curriculum/the-american-calendar/thanksgiving-day-proclamations-1789-present

 

“‘Freedom from Want,” 1943 – Norman Rockwell Museum – The Home for American Illustration.” Norman Rockwell Museum, Norman Rockwell Museum., 1 Mar. 2017, www.nrm.org/2016/11/freedom-want-1943/

 

“Saying Grace (Rockwell).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Sept. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saying_Grace_(Rockwell)

 

Abraham Lincoln’s Memorandum Of August 23, 1864

Abraham Lincoln’s Memorandum Of August 23, 1864

Neal Pollard

Somehow, I was unaware of the existence of a document which Abraham Lincoln drafted and had endorsed by every member of his cabinet, though unseen by them, and which remained sealed until November 11, 1864. These were not only dark times for the nation, embroiled in civil war for over three years at that point, but gloomy for the war-weary north which could not end the conflict against the greatly outmanned but tactically superior south. Politicians and citizens were unhappy with the perceived lack of success and progress at such high cost—the death and disabling of so many of her sons in the prime of their lives.  Lincoln detected that popular sentiment was such that he would not be reelected. Thus, he drafted his memo, which read, 

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable the this
Administration will not be reelected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate
with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the
inauguration: as he will have secured his election on such ground that he
cannot possibly save it afterward (Coolidge 139). 

Lincoln seemed to think that the north had had enough of this war and would rather sue for peace and allow our sea to shining sea to be two nations rather than continue with such devastating effects a war they could see no end to. He appears dedicated to whatever he could do to preserve unity.

Of course, several things changed the course of Lincoln’s fate in his bid for reelection that swept him decidedly into office for a second term. There was the north’s victorious show in The Battle of Atlanta, Fremont’s withdrawal from candidacy, the Democrats internal division between the Copperheads—eager to end the war now—and the War Democrats, and the fact that no electoral votes were counted from the Confederate States of America.  But, Lincoln could not see the future. He was preparing for what he saw as the worst.

There is a well-worn battle taking place in our world. It is not technically between two factions. It might be framed as Christianity versus other world religions. It could be cast as New Testament Christianity versus so many individual denominations. Yet, internally, there are multiple stressors to the biblical unity Christ prayed and died for, too (John 17:20-21). 

Christians are soldiers (Eph. 6:10ff), but our battle is not with flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12).  Our war and weapons are not “of the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:3-4). All the same, many have grown weary of fighting the good fight and not a few feel as though we are fighting in a losing cause. The restoration ideal of doing Bible things in Bible ways seems archaic and impossible to growing numbers of saints. Some fight with equal vigor to preserve traditions not rooted in Scripture, and unnecessarily harm the great cause. 

As we strive at all costs to be true to the pattern of New Testament Christianity, let us do so going to whatever lengths we can to maintain unity wherever possible. Not for a moment does that mean sacrificing truth or compromising even one “thus says the Lord.” But it does mean embracing a spirit of love and protectiveness for the precious Bride of Christ, the church. That involves loving and working with those who are the members of it. 

Ultimately, the Lord’s cause will prevail. His victory is as assured as every other divine promise. We must be striving on His side to share in that. For now, we cannot give up the fight! Let’s cooperate wherever and however we can, standing unitedly on the foundation of Christ and His will. The rest (which is most of it), we will leave to our Great Commander In Chief!

Works Cited:
Coolidge, Louis A. American Statesman Ulysses S. Grant (New York: Chelsea House, 1983).

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