What’s so happy about Thanksgiving?

During a recent dinner with a friend from Brazil, I was asked about this upcoming holiday we call Thanksgiving. For a moment, I talked about turkey and football and the Pilgrims. In truth, there is much more going on.

For my friend from another nation, Thanksgiving was a phenomenon that was beyond words. That we would actually take a whole day, to express gratitude to our God, to our families, to our friends; that we would make a tradition and a ritual out of a family dinner; that we would drive two hours to Grandma’s to eat the same thing we had last time we were there — it was beyond merely interesting. It was fascinating, even mystical. Apparently, Brazil does not have anything like this.

While some other nations have a Thanksgiving holiday, there is something uniquely American about this week, and how we celebrate it.

The traditional meal of turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie, gathering up our relatives and friends, perhaps hunting, maybe a football game or three — all of these speak to who we are as a people, where we have come from and how richly we are blessed.

Most of us have more than enough of just about everything. Most of us have some means of income, a place to call home, a couple of automobiles, and are in reasonably good health. I know that not all have these and there are hard times for many. But for the majority of us, we are a fortunate people. Even still, there is more to Thanksgiving.

We can be thankful for living in these days, in which life has become very convenient. We carry the Internet in our pockets. We can download our favorite movies and never miss our favorite team. We can call someone on the phone to deliver our dinner, come clean our carpets, and have flowers sent to our cousin in Wisconsin. We can turn a handle in our homes and have hot water come right out of the faucet. We live in an amazing world.

But we have also seen the devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to our friends in New York and New Jersey. There are places in the world that are not safe, where people are shooting one another, where there is no running water, where you will be harassed and threatened and in danger because of the color of your skin or your religious choices. While our own nation is much less than perfect, we are well and truly blessed.

I have a couple of friends that are currently dealing with cancer, and each one of them considers themselves to be blessed, and in spite of illness, they are grateful for the things they do have. I have another friend who is not currently employed, and is immensely grateful to have good health and a few friends. At Thanksgiving, we are not bogged down by what we do not have, we do not concern ourselves with the current difficulties, but rather we are overwhelmed by the richness and power of that which is good.

With all that we have, with all that we are thankful for, with the multitude of material blessings, that which we are most thankful for comes down to a few things — faith, family, and friends.

We rejoice in the freedom to worship and express gratitude to God. We celebrate our families and their successes, and we share in their defeats. We are glad for a few close friends with which to share our lives.

As you give thanks this week, I pray that your list of things to be thankful for is very long, and may you be blessed with gratitude and joy.


— Brian Hotaling is the pastor at Charles Town Baptist Church.

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