The day of Thanksgiving is celebrated in America on the last Thursday of November. With origins dating back nearly 400 years ago, friends and families gather around tables to feast and give thanks. Google gives us a background of the holiday thus:
It was 1620 in Plymouth, Massachusetts when Mayflower colonists and the Wampanoag forged a partnership of necessity. Decimated by an epidemic and wary of the mightier Narragansett, their nearby enemies, the Wampanoag and the newcomers become allies. The pilgrims were unfamiliar with Massachusetts’ natural resources and ill-equipped for survival – but Tisquantum, an English-speaking Patuxet Wampanoag, taught them how to hunt, gather shellfish, and plant corn, beans, and squash. Following harvest in the fall of 1621, the settlers and the Wampanoag, celebrated what’s considered the “First Thanksgiving,” a three-day feast with wild duck, goose, turkey, deer, and barley ale.
In 2013, Hollywood gave us what it knows best to celebrate Thanksgiving; the animation Free Birds. It tells the tale of Reggie, a Turkey who goes on a quest, albeit involuntarily, to remove turkeys from the menu of Thanksgiving.
Reggie had always been afraid of Thanksgiving because turkeys have always been on the menu, but his attempts to warn his farm-based flock constantly fall on deaf ears and has made him an outcast. When the other turkeys finally realize what is going on, they throw Reggie outside in an attempt to save themselves. In a surprise twist of fate, he winds up being named the “pardoned turkey” by the President of the United States and is subsequently taken to Camp David. Although initially hesitant, Reggie soon eases into a routine of doing nothing but enjoying pizza delivered to him by the “Pizza Dude” and watching Mexican telenovelas, before being kidnapped by Jake – a member of the Turkey Freedom Front.
Ultimately, together with the delusional Jake, S.T.E.V.E. – a top-secret A.I. software in an egg-shaped time machine and the Pizza Dude, Reggie convinces the settlers and the Indians that pizza is a more acceptable food than turkeys, taking them off the Thanksgiving menu entirely.
The movie received poor reviews, with most critics blaming the simplistic and cliche storyline. Aside from pure entertainment value, one wonders whether there is another message that the creators are trying to put across. Whatever the case, it is fitting to take a few moments each day to be thankful, and it is fitting to set aside a day each year to count our blessings with our friends and families.
However, one cannot help but note the absence of the thanks-receiver in this whole narrative. From the original Thanksgiving story, its portrayal by the arts and Hollywood and an increasingly consumerist culture which does not allow us to ponder the identity of He who deserves our thanks. This is because immediately after Thanksgiving Sunday is the Black Friday, a creation of a commercialized culture continuously telling us that the material possessions we have are not enough – distracting us from the big questions of life that derive from being thankful, like the identity of the giver.
An old Anglican hymnbook declares, “it is not only right but our duty to give him thanks and praise”. May I suggest in the same vein, even in this Thanksgiving 2016 holiday, may we be still and thank God, for only then will we recognize the greatest gift of all. Perhaps then, we will, like Isaac Watts in his classic hymn below, give the most appropriate response of all to this the greatest gift of all.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head,
For such a worm as I?
Thus might I hide my blushing face,
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay,
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give my self away,
‘Tis all that I can do.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!