Wasatch Behind: Celebrating turkey day
When I asked Uncle Spud if he was going to Grandma's house for Turkey Day, he gave me a cold look and told me to pull up a chair.
"It's a day of thanksgiving," he said. "It's not about gluttony, football, or a four-day weekend. It's a sacred religious observance. We are supposed to thank God for our blessings."
"I know that," I said with a touch or embarrassment. "It's just that sometimes we call it Turkey Day because that's what we eat."
"We have a bad habit of making light of things that are sacred," he said. "We "x" Christ out of Christmas and turn Easter into a picnic on the desert. Thanksgiving has become a football game with mashed potatoes and gravy. Many of us don't remember what our holidays are all about anymore. So, let me tell you about Thanksgiving," he said.
And he went on to tell the story.
In the fall of 1621, pilgrims in Massachusetts held a feast and invited the neighbors, a tribe of Warmpanoag Indians. The feast was a celebration of the colony's first harvest in the new world. It was also a time to thank God for their deliverance from religious persecution.
The term "pilgrim" was first coined by William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colony. The pilgrims were a group of English separatists who split from the Church of England in 1600 and dedicated their lives to living principles of the bible. Suffering much persecution in England and Holland for their religious beliefs, the pilgrims finally resolved to migrate to America where there were no other Christians to be offended by their strict adherence to Christian standards. They chartered a leaky little boat named Mayflower and sailed to America in 1620. One year later they held the first Thanksgiving Day to thank God for their deliverance and a good harvest in the new world.
Thanksgiving was not celebrated as a national holiday until 1777. No one knew better than General George Washington that a miracle had happened when his rag-tag army beat the British at the battle of Saratoga. Washington recognized the hand of God in his victory, and he decreed a national day of Thanksgiving to honor the event. He asked people to thank God for the victory and the birth of our nation.
After George Washington, Thanksgiving was not recognized as an official holiday until New York State decreed an annual day of Thanksgiving in 1817. The idea caught on, and by 1858 most other states were holding some type of Thanksgiving observance.
"Our people were very religious in those days and grateful for the freedom and the bounty our country offered," explained Spud.
In 1863, during the bloodiest days of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln decreed a national day of Thanksgiving to be held on the last Thursday of November. Apparently his motive was to invoke the help of God in ending the bloodshed by reminding people to pray for peace and thank God for the good things all Americans enjoy. It was an effort to unite people through non-denominational religious observance.
Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday of November until 1939. Then it was moved to the third Thursday in November to give stores another week to sell goods for the Christmas season.
"It was considered blasphemy back then to begin the Christmas season before the national day of Thanksgiving had ended," explained Spud. "To do so would show our greed and the materialistic corruption of Christmas. God would be displeased."
There was some public outcry about moving Thanksgiving for purely capitalistic motives, and in 1941 congress addressed the issue.
"Legislators decided that Thanksgiving would fall on the fourth Thursday of November, which means that some years it is on the last Thursday of the month and some years it is not - a typical political solution," stated Spud. "Today, in this land of plenty, we are not a very religious bunch. Most of us celebrate Turkey Day in front of the tube, watching football, drinking beer, and being thankful when our team wins. Taking a few minutes to thank God for our blessings never occurs to us. Some of us have Thanksgiving dinner at the corner deli while taking a break from Christmas shopping."
Thanksgiving decorations are not often put in stores and businesses anymore. We seem to need the space for Christmas decorations and advertising.
"I wonder if God is happy that we are so eager to celebrate Christmas?" said Spud.
And then he added "What do you think?"