Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving--Our National Holiday

Thanksgiving is almost here.  It is one of our two major national holidays, the other being Independence Day, July 4. We have more, but these seem to be the two primary ones.

I think of Thanksgiving Day as part of an interesting progression of secular to religious holidays in American culture. July 4 is political without religious overtones. Thanksgiving is technically national, with thanks given, to God, for the blessings of being Americans in the most wonderful nation on earth. Christmas is technically a religious holiday, with celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and much secular activity.

I see something going on here.  Our national constitution long ago set the stage for separation of church and state. The first amendment clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”  Today we have two religious/secular holidays that celebrate the Christianity of our nation, while celebrating secular issues such as turkeys, Santa Claus, home decoration, gift giving and much enhancement of our economic system.

Thanksgiving Day is a big day of patriotism. Schools are closed. People travel to be with their families. Big dinners are prepared and eaten. Sometimes we think about what Thanksgiving is about and why our nation celebrates it. The national mythology tells us that it is about the European settlers sitting down in peace with the Native Americans, to have dinner in friendship. Friendship prevails.

Well, maybe. The Europeans came to our continent with the assumption that they “discovered” it and it was theirs. Yes, but they discovered that people were already here. Here is a quote from a history book by James W. Loewen, in Lies My Teacher Told Me:  “Thanksgiving celebrates our ethnocentrism. We have seen, for example, how King James and the early Pilgrim leaders gave thanks for the plague, which proved to them that God was on their side. The archetypes associated with Thanksgiving—God on our side, civilization wrested from wilderness, order from disorder, through hard work and good Pilgrim character traits—continue to radiate from our history textbooks.” (pp. 95-96, paperback edition)

Thanksgiving is about giving thanks. Thanks for making us white, for our land takeover from the original owners (native tribes), for our immense wealth, and for our being the greatest people on earth (empire). It’s about a huge dinner, usually turkey. It’s also about shopping. The day after the holiday is the biggest shopping day of the year, the inauguration of the Christmas shopping season.

I notice that we have a group of candidates who want to be our next President. I see that religious credentials seem necessary for a President, and in particular, “acceptable” Christian credentials. Some people made much over the myth that President Obama might be a Muslim; he isn’t. Some people are worried about Mitt Romney being a Mormon.  People like to believe that our founding fathers were all members of established churches. I ask, why is faith being dragged through a country that has separation of church and state? Might some people rather want to see our national leaders acting on Christian principles rather than giving lip service to church membership while advocating violence such as two needless wars?  Is this what Thanksgiving is about?

Individually we have much to be thankful for. I am thankful for my family, my deceased parents and husband, and my children and grandchildren. I am thankful that we have enough to eat and a roof under our heads. I am thankful that I have enough money to sustain my life. I am thankful that we live in a society that doesn’t oppress me, although it oppresses some other people. Many Americans are not this well situated.

Bring on our next religious/secular holiday: Christmas.

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