Why We Love Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday—and I don’t think I’m the only one.


Not just for the food, although Thanksgiving dinner is the meal I look forward to more than any other. The smell of roast turkey sets my mouth watering. Sweet potato soufflé topped with crumbled pecans and brown sugar makes me want to shout hallelujah. Fresh cranberry relish is an addiction. And I can’t get enough of the gravy filled with turkey innards that my mother-in-law makes just for me.


But lots of holidays are known for their food—whether Christmas cookies or corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day or hot dogs on the Fourth of July. Thanksgiving cuisine isn’t what sets the day apart.


Neither is Thanksgiving cherished because of the vacation most of us get from work. A two day break that amounts to a four day weekend is welcome time off from fall’s hectic schedule, especially for families with kids in school. Other holidays, though, offer the same sort of relief.


I believe the day holds a special place for us because it’s shown a stubborn resistance to the larger agendas that have touched—some might say corrupted—almost every other American holiday. In a time of materialism, commercialization and competition, the only agenda Thanksgiving has is the simpler things of life.


On Thanksgiving even an atheist believes in something beyond himself


There are a couple of reasons why. First, Thanksgiving hasn’t lost its religious roots. When sitting around a loaded table with people you love, an almost irresistible urge to give thanks bubbles up in the face of the love and plenty the day celebrates, and we find ourselves lifted—if only for a few hours—from the grubbiness and meanness that so much of modern life consists of. On Thanksgiving even an atheist believes in something beyond himself.


The second explanation of the holiday’s enduring appeal is how it’s managed to preserve an essential purity. It’s an invitation to humility and gratitude in a culture that knows little of either. Everyone who sits down for Thanksgiving dinner connects with the evolution of the day through American history: the thankfulness of the Pilgrims as they celebrated their first harvest; the call of President George Washington for divine help as he took office; the desperation of President Abraham Lincoln’s appeal for national unity during the Civil War; and, finally, President Franklin Roosevelt’s proclamation of Thanksgiving as a federal holiday during the bleak years of the Great Depression. It’s a distinctively American occasion that reminds us of the best our nation has to offer.


Thanksgiving is a witness to the enduring value of faith, family and provision


Tucked between the neo-pagan silliness of Halloween and the feeding frenzy of the Christmas shopping season, Thanksgiving is a witness to the enduring value of faith, family and provision. That’s why I love it. And that’s why many other people do, too.


This year as I celebrate Thanksgiving, I’ll keep a few things in mind. Maybe these will help you celebrate the day, too.


  • Eating a great meal around the table with your family and friends on your best china is one of life’s real pleasures. No rush. No urgency to get finished so you can hurry off to your next commitment. Just unhurried time with people you love. That’s a blessing all by itself.


  • Our extended families—sadly, most of us only get together with them on rare occasions—have a much larger impact on us than we realize. The multi-generational relationships many of us will enjoy on Thursday have made us who we are. It’s worth the effort to get with them as often as we can. The people we see around the table this year may not be with us next year.


  • Faith is most clearly seen in families. When our faith only consists of what we do in church on Sunday mornings, it’s not genuine. Real faith reveals itself at times like Thanksgiving when gratitude, love and God show up in equal measure. When Pam and I gather with her extended family later this week, there will be four generations present, all tracking back to a few people over a hundred years ago who took God at His Word and determined to live by faith. The Thanksgiving celebration bears testimony to the authenticity of their faith–as it does for so many other families.


Thanks to the YMCA for the picture at top

This is an edited version of a previous blog