The Problem with Thanksgiving

You know the story of that very first Thanksgiving Day in the English colonies, right? You know, the one where Captain John Woodlief and those 38 colonists who had just had arrived in the Virginia colonies from Berkeley, England and set aside a day of giving thanks to God at the Berekley Hundred (later renamed Berkley Plantation) on December 4, 1619 where Woodlief proclaimed--

Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.

Oh, you haven’t heard that story? That because those Johnny-come-lately Pilgrims from Massachusetts arrived at Plymouth Rock with a publicist, so that now everyone just “knows’ that the first Thanksgiving was in Massachusetts with the Pilgrims after the whole colony almost froze to death following that first bitter winter in 1622. But the very FIRST Thanksgiving Day was in Virginia. OK, so actually the first Thanksgiving in the New World was one led by Spanish explorer Juan de Onate held one near El Paso, Texas in 1598, but that one doesn’t count because it was in Texas! They probably had chili and burritos and guacamole or something (actually, that sounds pretty good).

At any rate, the idea of a Thanksgiving Day was not held as a "perpetual" celebration in either Massachusetts or Virginia.  Thanksgiving Day was never more than a local and sporadic event until until Abraham Lincoln made it an annual national holiday observance in 1863. Which means that “first” thanksgiving in Massachusetts took place after a bitter winter almost destroyed a whole colony and the first national Thanksgiving Day was observed DURING the tragedy of the Civil War that almost destroyed our nation. We still observe Thanksgiving Day, but it has little to do with struggle and more to do with eating ourselves silly and then complaining about how stuffed we feel!

But that’s not the real problem with Thanksgiving. The real problem is that we set aside this one day to reflect on and give thanks for our blessings (in which we overindulge) and then ONE DAY later…  we rush out for  “Black Friday,” the biggest shopping day of the year.  We forget all about Thanksgiving Day in our rush to run out and get more stuff. The idea of Thanksgiving was born from struggle and the awareness of God’s goodness despite our difficulty and hardship. Now we seem to believe that we deserve all the good things we have, and we can’t even have of day of reflection on Thanksgiving without turning it into an excuse to shop until we drop getting more, more, more. Will Rogers drew this contrast between Thanksgiving Day then and now:

In the days of our founders, people were willing to give thanks for mighty little, for mighty little was all that they expected. But now neither government nor nature can give enough but what we think is too little. In the fall of the year, if the founders could gather in a few pumpkins, some potatoes, and some corn for the winter, they were in a thanking mood. But if we can’t gather in a new car, a new radio...and some government relief, why we feel that the world is against us.

It’s ironic that the more and more we have for which to be thankful, the harder and harder it is seems to get to be truly thankful. As the late Andy Rooney would say, “Why is that?