Our national holidays are complicated. With every one we are reminded that good news for some is – or has been – bad news for others. We keep bumping into religious holy days that have to be secularized in order for them to make any sense in the diverse environment of every-day America. And in spite of the objections raised by some Christians, this nation of ours continues to wrestle with the fact that our national identity is centered on the freedom from religious oppression. The government can neither force us to nor prohibit us from the exercise of any specific religious practice.
Perhaps Columbus landed on our shores with what were in his mind the noblest of intentions. But … we all know what the road to hell is paved with. And that pesky “Prime Directive” of Star Trek fame has made its way into contemporary thought. To assume that any particular culture or code of ethics is better than another must not be made lightly. How different would human history read had invading or visiting armies refused to impose their point of view on the inhabitants they encountered in those places where they landed?
Then, there is the challenge that comes when history gets sentimentalized. Like the birth of Jesus caressed in angel song, attended to by royalty, confirmed by angels appearing to shepherds – this is a lot different from the way at least one of the Gospel writers saw it. Along with all the “praising’ and “glorifying”, there was the slaughter of innocent children by a madman king. Parents and child had to literally run for their lives! But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The official “Holiday Season” is now formally upon us with the celebration of Thanksgiving.
The settlers at Plymouth Plantation, grateful after a season of harvest, gathered with natives who had taught them how to grow corn, beans and squash. Their feast had the air of gratitude for their having survived after half of their company had died the year before. George Washington issued a “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” on October 3, 1779. In 1846 Sarah Josepha Hale started her campaign – she would labor for 17 years through four presidential administrations in her effort to have Thanksgiving named a national holiday. In 1863 Pres. Abraham Lincoln made the declaration. The date has moved around a bit; but the essential motive and desire of this holiday remains constant. People want to gather – especially with family – and share a meal together. We read that more people in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving than Christmas. And the menu is changing.
You can find recipes for Thanksgiving Day that lean toward any number of different ethnicities. “You can easily find recipes for Bengali Thanksgiving feasts,” writes Hector Tobar in the NY Times. “Chinese turkey steamed buns and accounts of Armenian family Thanksgiving reunions. Ask a rabbi, and he or she will probably tell you not to worry: Thanksgiving can be kosher, too.”
Hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and shelters will attempt to serve up a meal on Thanksgiving day that is reminiscent of a before time – before you were sick or old, incarcerated or homeless. Houses of worship will welcome folks to take a shower – that’s what we are doing on Thanksgiving morning at First UMC Burlington; but other places will offer the meal. It won’t be called “Holy Communion”; but that’s really what we all are after. Those fortunate to be with loved ones and those whose celebrations will be more solitary – the desire is the same. The menu and the venue might differ according to our ethnicity or circumstances, but what we want at the deepest level is to be with the people we love.
Whatever is on the table before you this Thanksgiving and whoever it is that joins you for the holiday repast, may you know the love of those who are dear to you – close at hand or far away; and may you have some inkling of how much you are loved by our Creator.
Blessings … Many blessings to you today.