American Thanksgiving Day – Meaning and Purpose

Today is the American National Day of Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Turkey Day. It is interesting to note that this is not a religious holiday, as one recognized in Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion.

It took Sara Hale several U.S. presidents before she at last found one (Lincoln) willing to set aside a day in the fall as a day of thanks to God for the harvest (food). Later another president (Roosevelt) moved the day for economic reasons – to extend the days of buying before Christmas, for Christmas is the season supporting many American capitalistic merchants throughout the rest of the year.

For nearly four hundred years, Americans considered the First Thanksgiving, the three-day harvest feast the survivors of the Mayflower held when they invited the people whose land they now lived on, held in November of 1621. There were fifty-three people from the ship who attended, and ninety dark-skinned men, who probably wore more clothing in cold November than the paintings give them credit. Only the four women who survived from the Mayflower ordeal did the cooking, along with a few small female daughters and some male servants. Naturally, the host men had shot several turkeys for the feast, but they hadn’t expected so many guests. So, naturally again, the Indians went out and hunted five deer to supplement the feast. Which makes me wonder why we don’t have venison on our Thanksgiving Day plates next to the turkey.

Days of thanksgivings were common in the summer and in the fall, not just in the New World, but through the centuries among any people who believed in a deity in whom to give thanks. Some Indians gave thanks to the animals they killed for giving their lives for their survival. But whether in the summer harvest or fall, the people always gave thanks to God.

I find it interesting how we Americans have changed the meaning of words in the past couple of years, or even past few decades. For example, bald used to mean white headed (e.g., the American bald eagle); gay used to mean happy; marriage used to be the relationship between a male and female to procreate; Thanksgiving used to be a time set aside to thank God. I realize I’m sounding all politically incorrect here, but I’m actually aiming towards historic word accuracy. Words we use today have changed in meaning. That’s a fact.

So my question is: what do you think of when you think Thanksgiving? Chance for a four-day weekend? A day off of work? (At least for schools and federal agencies, for it is a national holiday, after all.) Is Thanksgiving a time to put up with relatives? A time society makes you feel lonely because you have no family to be with, or no money to spend on a forced feast? A time to feel guilty that you don’t eat meat or fowl? A time to read your Bible and reflect on who God is and how he has helped you?

Again: Thanksgiving. What do you think of when you hear that national holiday word?

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