The True Meaning of Thanksgiving

When I was really little my mom started a tradition that carried on all through my childhood.  Conventional Christmas pageants bored the heck out of her, so when she finally got her hands on running the thing she let the youth group do a skit before the normal pageant started.  It really was the most wonderful time of the year because the youth always took off with this idea in all kinds of creative ways.  That first year my mom started this, the youth group had a Wayne’s World theme.  There were a lot of “Party on!” exchanges, to say the least.  When I got old enough, we pulled off all kind of stunts.  My favorite year was the Reality TV Pageant, where Queer Eye for the Savior Guy came in and redecorated the Manger and Stable.

No matter how wild or seemingly sacrilegious the themes got, the Christmas Pageants always had the same moral: The world in which we live completely misses the true meaning of Christmas.  We need to take this time to get back to the basics.  Somehow, we managed to segue every year from our contemporary portrayals into the conventional nativity procession, baby doll Jesus and all.

It occurred to me as I ate my Thanksgiving meal this year that we don’t do enough of the “getting back to basics” for this holiday.  Earlier in the day, I stomached the actors in the Macy’s parade singing the sickening lyric, “I believe in the miracle of love because I believe in Santa Claus.”  Do you remember in A League of Their Own when Tom Hanks has a shaking fit in frustration with his girl ball players? Well, I looked something like that hearing them sing that song.   Over dinner, though, my dad read us the original Thanksgiving Proclamation given by George Washington in 1789 and I realized how far away from the original sentiment of the day we had come as a society.  It’s easy to rattle off some things we enjoy and feel thankful for, but reading that proclamation really reminds us of how much we truly are blessed.

I think Jim Gaffigan sums up Thanksgiving as we tend to think about it today:

Consider the contrast with Washington’s address.

General Thanksgiving

By the PRESIDENT of the United States Of America

A PROCLAMATION


WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;– for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;– for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;– and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;– to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington

 

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