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)

 

The Christian And Government 

The Christian And Government 

Neal Pollard

There is a passage that can be so disturbing because it is so adamantly clear. That passage is Romans 13:1-7. The early church fathers had a lot to say about this passage. They lived at a time when the government sponsored and led persecution and even execution of Christians simply for being Christians and sharing Christ with others. Nobody living in our country today has any experience with what this is like. Despite the pain and price inflicted by the Roman Empire on them, over and over the early Christians defended Paul’s words in Romans 13.

  • Basil—It is right to submit to higher authority whenever a command of God is not violated thereby
  • Ambrosiaster—Those who believe cannot play fast and loose with the law
  • Apollinaris—To disobey rulers is condemned as a mistaken way of thinking
  • Chrysostom—There should be rulers and ruled and…that things should not just lapse into anarchy is the work of God’s wisdom (Ancient Christian Commentary, Vol. VI, Oden, ed.).

Whether you long for the Obama administration or love the Trump administration, whether you love or loathe your governor, senators, and congressmen, Romans 13 applies to us today.  Whatever your feelings about law enforcement or our judicial system, Romans 13 applies to us today. No one should be more conscientious about their relationship to the Civil Government than a Christian. What does this text reveal to us about “the earthly powers that be?”

  • The government has a Divine source (1). They are “from God” and “established by God.”
  • The government is a divine statute (2). Paul calls their ruling “the ordinance of God” and he warns against opposing such.
  • The government is comprised of Divine servants (3-6). The term Paul repeatedly uses of those within such earthly institutions is “ministers of God” (“servants of God,” 6) bearing the sword, bringing wrath, and devoting themselves to maintaining divinely-ordained order on earth.
  • The government carries Divine stipulations (7). God calls for Christians to render them what is due to them, namely taxes, customs, fear, and honor.

The limit to this is if they command us (forbidding or making us) to do what would cause us to disobey God (cf. Acts 5:29). That is not the same as commanding us to do something that restricts our “rights,” “freedoms,” or “liberties.” There may be privileges we enjoy in a free nation which contribute to our comfort, happiness, and enjoyment. They may even be dubbed “unalienable rights” in our national constitution. May we never confuse earthly privilege with divine precept. The inspired Paul makes it clear that God is behind government for the reasons seen above. Peter, in a context about civil government, reminds us that we are “aliens and strangers” on this earth (1 Pet. 2:11; cf. 13ff). As we loudly, lustily sing, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through…”  “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:15). May God give us the strength and wisdom to this end!

Maison Carrée, Temple of Rome and Augustus