As we celebrate what we often believe is a uniquely American holiday, I had not thought to write about it until Sunday’s sermon moved me. You know me to be a Christian Fiction author but this blog is not especially evangelical. That is due largely to my lack of expertise – there are lots of people writing with far more authority than I could offer. Today I write more from inspiration than education and I hope that I can cause you to pause for just a moment to give thanks for the myriad blessings we all enjoy.
We always talk about the pilgrims who first settled in North America but their other title was separatists. Somehow that name is not quite as attractive to us as pilgrim, is it? But these brave souls wanted to be separate from the government and crown that sought to dictate every detail of their lives – right down to when, where, how and to whom they worshipped. They came to America so that they could worship however they saw fit.
Children will do plays this week dressing up as Indians and Quakers; we may tell the story of the colony at Plymouth Rock and the kindness the Native Americans showed these newcomers. Some will even take a moment on Thursday to think of what we individually have to be thankful for. And then we will dig in.
On Sunday, Pastor Bill Hall preached on Fasting and Feasting. But nobody wants to talk about fasting this week, do we? We are all gearing up, planning menus and trips to grandma’s house for one of the biggest meals we’ll have all year. Yet, in America today we feast so much that I wonder if we can really appreciate the feast-nature of this holiday? If we fasted for one day or even for one meal before the feast would we be better able to appreciate it?
Officially we say that the first American Thanksgiving was celebrated following the harvest of 1621. We recognize that without the help of the native peoples those first settlers would not have survived and they acknowledged that in their first Thanksgiving feast. In 1623 the pilgrims kept another Thanksgiving; they had a lot to be thankful for that year. You see, about half their number had died; those that survived must have felt eternally grateful.
While some of the settlers the Mayflower delivered may have come from farming backgrounds, the Separatist Church had been in Holland for a decade dwelling in towns and working in trades. They were no doubt fairly poor but I’m not sure anything could have prepared them for the hardships they would face on a brand new continent. Those first winters no doubt saw fasting days by necessity for the food stores were lean. But this was something their Indian neighbors already knew about – it was a way of life for most nomadic tribes who relied so heavily on the availability of wild game. Of course, the Wampanoag tribe that befriended our forefathers was farmers. Many of you reading this have seen seasons on a mountain farm and can certainly relate to the fickleness of crops. Thankfully, today we can always run to Walmart if the garden doesn’t pan out; this was not an option in the seventeenth century.
Giving thanks and the idea of feasting with thanksgiving dates way, way back. In fact, it’s ordered in the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament. God asked the Jews to keep eight different feast days. While we see both the children of Israel and the early Christians fasting in lots of different circumstances, The Law actually required a fast for the Day of Atonement.
Any feast is a lot of work. One of the feasts the Jewish people were given is Sukkot, the Feast of Booths and this is the perfect example of the work required. During this seven-day holiday, booths are built and covered with palm fronds or other plant material. The family leaves their home and lives in this booth for a week, remembering the conditions during The Exodus. The feast is shared inside this booth as well.
While we aren’t building huts in the front yard, there’s still some work required to roast a turkey and trim the table properly – not to mention fighting the crowds to lay in all the groceries required for the feast.
There’s some effort required of fasting as well of course. It’s more than just going without. The fast was intended to bless someone else. What you were going to eat is supposed to be given up so that someone else can enjoy it. With our social programs and hopefully because of active churches, it would actually take a little effort in America to find someone who really didn’t have a meal.
Of course in our modern society, not every home is a Norman Rockwell painting. Even if you are not living the idyllic family life this year, there is still so much be thankful for.
This year I’m thankful for healthy children and loving friends and family surrounding me. I live in a land of plenty where the probability I’ll go hungry this winter is really pretty small. We have steady work, a warm house and shoes without holes. And we will have a bountiful table on Thursday. All of these and so many others are direct blessings from God and I give him the praise for them.
What do you have to be thankful for?