The icy winds of a secularized winter howl across the dystopian landscape, freezing every good and pleasant thing that gives “great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8). Mankind, male and female, as God made us, is now, in the passing years of our supreme disobedience of unbelief, a Foucault-inspired “social construct” as fluid as our idolatrous imaginations can cogitate. Inevitably, the Secular Age has become the postmodern “theater of the absurd.” Fools and charlatans take the stage and parade before us, men as women, women as men, beasts with determined defiance, one and all. But the unbelief in God that produces mutinous gaiety tragically masks the disturbing encroachment of insanity (Romans 1:18-32). The theater of the absurd descends into the prison of madness. So, we are not surprised when the steady chipping away at Plymouth Rock finally cracks the stone into pieces. It is time for those who have not lost their minds in the apparent race to self-destruction to assume a more offensive position. It is time to recover and restore the crumbled remains of the stone that the sinister Secular clowns have destroyed. It’s the day before Thanksgiving. So let us begin there. Let us take back Thanksgiving.
As our school children once knew, Thanksgiving extends back to the English-speaking Christians’ founding settlements in New England and Virginia. Edward Winslow, for example, wrote in his journal about the first Thanksgiving in that first harvest season in the New World in 1621. These Thanksgiving worship services continued through those difficult founding years. Another journal writer, William Bradford, attested to the new Americans gathering together to thank God for His blessings. On June 20, 1676, the Plymouth Council issued a Proclamation that read, in part: “The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour . . .” During those arduous days in which our present nation developed through unspeakable hardships, violent vicissitudes, and uncertainties without number, those now-famous colonies emerged, from Maine to Georgia, with each body politic creating thanksgiving days of their own. The Continental Congress governed the land from 1774-1789, during the terrible days of the American Revolution. It was Samuel Adams who drafted the wording for a Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1777 that gave the reason for the holy day:
“To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, Independence and Peace: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth ‘in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.’”
General Washington also issued his Proclamation of Thanksgiving. After the 1789 Presidential election (defeating my mostly forgotten ancestor, John Milton [1740-1817] of Halifax, North Carolina, and, later, Georgia, in the process), President Washington gave the first United States Proclamation of Thanksgiving on October 3, 1789. Successive presidents followed our first national leader in similar proclamations of Days of Prayer and Thanksgiving. Yet, with Abraham Lincoln, we have the framing of the National Day of Prayer that we know today. On October 3, 1863, with the crisis of the American Civil War separating brother from brother, Abraham Lincoln called on the nation to set apart the last Thursday of November to seek God in prayer and Thanksgiving: “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Politics got into the National Day of Thanksgiving during the days following the Great Depression. President F.D. Roosevelt, urged by Fred R. Lazarus, Jr. (1884 – 1973), founder of what became Macy’s Department Store (then Federated Department Stores) and a considerable donor to Democratic politicians, changed Thanksgiving from the last to the fourth Thursday in November. This was done to extend the shopping season. While Republicans decried the move as a “Democratic Thanksgiving,” the country moved forward with the remnant of the Pilgrim’s prayers mixed with Macy’s commercial interests. As television became more prominent in American homes, football and holiday specials like “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” added sports and entertainment to the day’s festivities.
For Christians, Thanksgiving Day remains a vital connection to our founding heritage as a nation founded by Christians who sought a “city on a hill” to shine the light of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. God blessed that vision and covenant between our Pilgrim forebears and Himself. It remains for the church, each family, and each believer to take a stand on that day granted unto us as a national day of thanksgiving to gather together and ask the Lord’s blessings and to return sincere thanksgiving to Him for His blessings to this People gathered from all over the world; this nation of pilgrims called America.
Therefore let us take a stand: Let every believer resist the temptations of this “secular age” that would draw us away from the covenants our spiritual forefathers in this country made with the Almighty and return unto Him with repentance, true faith, and hearts filled with thanksgiving.
I prefer to conclude this entry with the words of John Adams in his March 6, 1799 proclamation:
[T]hat [the citizen] shall call to mind our numerous offenses against the Most High God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore His pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous requisitions in time to come.
So, there we have it. Thanksgiving is not merely the first day of the holiday shopping season, “Turkey Day,” nor a quaint American legend. Thanksgiving is at the core of what it is to be the spiritual, if not familial, descendants of a People, Americans, who made a covenant with God, a People who gave their all to found a nation in the wilderness. This country would be “a city on a hill” and a beacon of Gospel light to the world. In so many ways, generations of Americans renewed that sacred covenant and sought to live out the vision and values bequeathed by pilgrim people. Now? I assert that we can remain that “city on a hill.” How so? When we who follow God and His Word walk out of the “theater of the absurd,” walk away from the madness masquerading as progress and take back those sacred things that bring about human flourishing, we take back Thanksgiving. In doing so, we share something beautiful: the life-changing power of creaturely gratitude to a holy and merciful God.
Journals of the Continental Congress (1905) for June 12, 1775; March 16, 1776; December 11, 1776; November 1, 1777; March 7, 1778; November 17, 1778; March 20, 1779; October 20, 1779; March 11, 1780; October 18, 1780; March 20, 1781; October 26, 1781; March 19, 1782; October 11, 1782; October 18, 1783.
The American Presidency Project, “Abraham Lincoln: Proclamation – Thanksgiving Day, 1863” (at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=69900&st=&st1=).
The National Archives, “Congress Establishes Thanksgiving” (at http://www.archives.gov/legislative/features/thanksgiving/); see also Pilgrim Hall Museum, “Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations 1940-1949: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman” (at http://www.pilgrimhall.org/ThanxProc1940.htm), Proclamation 2571: Days of Prayer: Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day, November 11, 1942, referring to a “joint resolution of Congress approved December 26, 1941, which designates the fourth Thursday in November of each year as Thanksgiving Day.”.
Journals of the Continental Congress (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1907), Vol. IX, p. 855, November 1, 1777.
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot: Tragicomedy in 2 Acts. Grove Press, 1954.
Bradford, William. Of Plimoth [sic] Plantation. Boston: Wright and Potter, 1898. Accessed November 7, 2016. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24950/24950-h/24950-h.htm.
Esslin, Martin. “The Theatre of the Absurd,” Tulane Drama Review 4, no. 4 (1960): 3–15. Note: Esslin, a theater critic and scholar, wrote about the postmodern playwrights Samuel Beckett, Arthur Adamov, and Eugène Ionesco. The movement in France (though Beckett was Irish, Adamov was Russian, and Ionesco was Romanian) evoked meaninglessness, or Nihilism, that resulted in such plays as Waiting for Godot.
Lincoln, Abraham. The Works of Abraham Lincoln, John H. Clifford & Marion M. Miller, editors (New York: University Society Inc., 1908), Vol. VI, pp. 160-161, Proclamation for Thanksgiving, October 3, 1863.
Sickel, H.S.J. Thanksgiving: Its Source, Philosophy, and History. Philadelphia: International Printing Co. p.158.
Suess, Jeff. “Lazarus to Thank for Thanksgiving Date.” Cincinnati.com. November 27, 2014. Accessed November 07, 2016. http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/history/2014/11/27/lazarus-to-thank-for-thanksgiving-date/19573889/.
Winslow, Edward. Winslow’s Relation. London: George Morton, 1622.