In this nation of ours that seems less Christian than ever, I wonder what people who do not believe in God really celebrate when they celebrate Thanksgiving. Has it really come down to just a holiday where turkey is cooked and served? Do families gather to celebrate the turkey, or do they really give thanks as the holiday was intended?
I am sure the first Thanksgiving was a simple affair. That first Thanksgiving dinner must have consisted of what was grown or available in the colonies. I can certainly see why those who had persevered through an arduous journey and a less than perfect harvest felt thankful for what they had.
Their trip was made to escape religious persecution. Even if they had little, they were thankful just to be in a new country where they could worship as they pleased.
Religious freedom is not an escape from religion as has become the popular idea these days. It is the freedom to pursue the religion of your choice. When our forefathers drafted the Constitution they exercised their rights of free speech and all of the other rights included in the Bill of Rights. They prayed at public events. They allowed prayer in school. They were not trying to exorcise religion from their lives. They were trying to protect their right to worship as they pleased, when they pleased. Moments of silence were observed in all areas. If a person did not feel like a prayer at the moment, they could just remain silent.
Folks, look at the churches in this area. There are many gray heads and few young families. What can we do about that? Our churches need to be more proactive supporting young families in any way they can. Their primary focus should be the growing not of their particular denomination, but the growing of the Christian community as a whole. We have to learn to work together for the values that we hold dear.
We are fortunate to live in an area where faith and family are celebrated. We remain steadfast in our desire to celebrate the real meaning of Thanksgiving. We do however, need to inspire the next generation to maintain their faith and practice it. We cannot let the secular community take over.
There are so many distractions these days. While most of them are harmless, they are making it difficult for families to worship together. The stores are open. There are sporting events to partake in or to support a favorite team. Life is very different than it was when I grew up. In my day it was go to church first, then visit with the family. Families were stronger in those days. Very few people had to work on Sunday. It was only the essential services such as healthcare that were operational.
We wore our "Sunday-go-to-meeting" clothes. Now, I do not feel that your clothing is that important. The most important thing is that you spend time in worship before you go about your business.
Young people need to see their elders practicing their religion. Going to church needs to become simply a part of their Sundays, a priority. Everyone misses a Sunday or two. I am not speaking of that. A Sunday missed does not do damage, if it is simply a disruption of a tradition.
When I worked with Vacation Bible School in this community I always told the workers that we were not doing this to build our individual churches. We were doing it for the children whose parents wrote that they did not attend any church. For some children VBS was the only education they received about God. If we put one child on the right path, it was worth it. I have had children tell me how much that week each summer meant to them. Some now are the head of a family who attend church regularly.
As the week of Thanksgiving approaches remember to take time to thank God for all of your blessings. I give thanks to God for continued good health. I never took my health for granted, but believe me after a cancer scare I am more aware of it than ever.
Think about what you do have, not about what you do not have. If you have a roof over your head, you are fortunate. If you have enough to eat, you should be thankful. If your family is nearby, it is a blessing. If you are experiencing good health, it is something to celebrate.
While you may or may not have turkey, that is not the reason for this holiday. The purpose is as its name implies - a day to give thanks to our creator for all that he does for us. You do not need to be in church on Thanksgiving Day, just take time for everyone to tell what they are thankful for. Say a prayer before you eat that big meal.
Last year I started a new personal tradition. I devoted the whole week of Thanksgiving to remembering my family members living and deceased. Each day was devoted to a special person. I thought about that person from the moment I awoke until I went to bed. It made me remember occasions that I might have forgotten to be thankful for.
For many of you a week is not enough. Let this tradition spill into December. It just may make Christmas more meaningful as well.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa.