In just a few weeks, a most loved holiday is going to be celebrated at almost every home in our nation: Thanksgiving. When I was growing up, the holiday was in some ways even more special than Christmas.
Thanksgiving was a time when we all got together, not just for meals, although the main meal was to die for. I just couldn’t wait until I was old enough to have a chance to get one of the drumsticks reserved for “grownups.” (Why didn’t we ever get one of those John Madden eight-legged turkeys?)
There was no better place on the planet to be at Thanksgiving than my grandmother’s. All the relatives were there; so many cousins too you’d think a tornado had invaded the premises. We had more time than usual to spend with Grandpa, hearing about times long ago, learning how he came up with the ideas for all the things he invented. You’d get caught up in the aromas, all of the little knickknacks that Grandma had collected over the years, and the awareness that we were part of an important family that really loved each other.
One of the things I remember is how everything came to a stop, as if time itself was holding its breath, and people shared what they were thankful for. Almost always, even with us children, our thankfulness focused on the people in our lives.
I was not raised in a Christian home, and so Christ, my Savior, my Creator, and my Sustainer, was one aspect that I didn’t learn to be thankful for until I was in my twenties. But I did become aware over the years that Thanksgiving originated with the pilgrims who were thankful that God had kept them alive during a difficult winter as they first colonized this great land.
Thanksgiving is an appropriate holiday for our nation, in that it is God who appoints and builds up nations, and the pilgrims, far more than most people today, recognized that truth. Today, Thanksgiving still enjoys a respectable reputation in our nation. It is still seen by most as a time for family and friends to gather and to be thankful for who is in their lives, as well as the other things they have to be thankful for.
It wasn’t until I was a Christian that I realized God is the source of all good gifts, and it is to Him that all thanks are due. Certainly that’s not a popular sentiment in our time, as it has been in times past. In fact, if you were to seek to express thanks to God in a public forum there are those who would try to stop you, and even sue over such an action.
How sad that we’ve fallen to such a low point in our culture, many seek to set legal limits that would almost go to the point of saying the only ones allowed to publicly express their beliefs about God are those who do not believe in God. How sad so many of our leaders who “say” they support religious freedom, in reality are in league with those who are trying to curtail religious freedom, especially for those who profess faith in Jesus.
But I am thankful that, although the origins of Thanksgiving are clearly due to a Christian expression of thankfulness to God for His providential care, it has not yet led to a secularized attack that attempts to derail the observation of Thanksgiving into something totally obscure of its origin.
Such cannot be said of other Christian holidays that are nationally observed, such as Christmas, Easter, or Saint Patrick’s Day. Christians, for the most part, are aware the meaning of Christmas is that of God being born as one of us to become a legitimate substitute on the cross to atone for our sins. Yet, if you weren’t aware of that, you certainly wouldn’t get a clue from the way our society depicts Christmas in the media and in the malls.
The treatment Easter has received at the hands of the “cultural engineers” of the last 70 to 80 years is no better. If it’s celebrated at all, it is at the park, or some other place, to hunt for Easter eggs, and then go to homes and have large dinners. Some people put up “Easter trees,” eat and have a party — all without ever mentioning the death and resurrection of Jesus. In many parts of the country, Mardi Gras has overshadowed Easter. If you follow Mardi Gras, you know it’s anything but a time of holiness and righteousness.
As Christians, what do we do in the face of such cultural attempts to eradicate the true meaning of these and other Christian holidays that have a rich history? We love people, and strive to hold up the true meaning of these events. Every time such a holiday is mentioned is one more opportunity to share the truth about Christ, and attempt to correct a misconception about that holiday. Just because you may not win that cultural war, does not mean you have to concede defeat.
Perseverance in the face of societal persecution is something that God will enable you to endure, and He will bless you as you continue to hold up the light of Christ.
McCartney is pastor of First Baptist Church of Tooele.