Thanksgiving, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving! It is a greeting that will be exchanged a lot today - even by those whose travel plans have been stymied by inclement weather. It is a national holiday and one of the few national holidays that comes with extra time off from work for many. Of course the shopping frenzy of the day after Thanksgiving means that those engaged in retail sales will be doubly busy on that day. And some stores will be open today to capture whatever of that market they are able. So it isn’t a holiday for everyone.

We had dreams of expanding our annual community Thanksgiving service to make it a truly interfaith event. We did succeed in adding the Synagogue of the Hills and Rapid City Seventh Day Adventist Church to our list of celebrants, but support from the downtown churches was a bit lukewarm and attendance was light, not aided by the weather or the fact that the public schools have taken the entire week off.

Much attention has been given to cooking and eating a feast, a tradition in which we will take part later today. I have been up for an hour and a half before sitting down to write this morning. I like to rise early on holidays and make fresh buns. It is something that I remember from my days of growing up. My mother would rise early on Thanksgiving and set to work preparing the meal. If we were traveling to share the meal with relatives, she’d be up early baking bread to accompany the meal. Leftover turkey sandwiches in fresh baked rolls are a long-standing tradition in our family.

My father used to tease my mother about her cooking from time to time. The truth was that she was an excellent cook. She grew up with four sisters in a household where her mother took seriously her work as a homemaker and trained her daughters in those skills. My father’s mother was busy with a family of mostly boys and had only one daughter. The game at their house was volume. Prepare food in large batches - all those boys working on the farm meant a lot of food was consumed. But when my dad would tease my mom, she would double down working harder, gathering fresh recipes and making lots of food from scratch. We used flour directly from her family’s farm, ground in a small home mill. Fresh ingredients and lots of hard work were a part of our diet.

One of our family stories is about my father asking mother to make chicken and dumplings. She complied. He said it was very good, but the dumplings weren’t quite like the ones his mother made. She tried new recipes. Each time the response was the same. It’s not quite like my mothers. Finally our mother asked our grandmother what the secret to her dumplings was. She replied, “I’ve never made dumplings in my life.” Caught in his joke, my father was served Bisquick dumplings for the rest of his life. I grew up liking Bissquick and use it all the time.

There will be plenty of family stories this weekend and a few heartfelt prayers. Certainly we have a lot for which to be grateful in our house. Susan’s close call with a reaction to medicine has made us much more aware of our mortality and the blessing of every day we have together. The love and support that our family, church and community demonstrated during her illness is another blessing for which we will be eternally grateful.

Coming from a Congregational heritage, we know the stories of the Pilgrims and what is sometimes called the first Thanksgiving. Of course thanksgiving is a tradition that dates back to the earlier of Biblical times, but there was something new about the shared meal celebrated the support that indigenous people offered to the Pilgrims who arrived seriously short of basic survival skills. The heritage of that event is mixed, of course. the subsequent history of abuse of indigenous people, land seizures, forced relocations and much more gives us pause as we celebrate an event that some people see as a dark moment in our history.

As we have been thinking about Thanksgiving this year, our conversations have reached deeper than those things. For the most part, Thanksgiving is described in popular culture as a passive event. We eat a meal. We say a prayer. We make lists of things for which we are grateful. The discipline of keeping a gratitude journal is a useful exercise and I don’t want to discount its value in spiritual growth, but in the Bible, Thanksgiving is not a passive activity. It is a real, physical event and the focus is as much on the giving as it is on the thanks. In multiple places the Bible commands thanksgiving. It reminds us of our heritage of being led from slavery to freedom and then it gives specific instructions about the nature and the manner of the gifts we are to bring. We are to offer the first fruits of our labor - the freshest and most precious of our livestock and garden. And it is to be given away. God is generous. Our response ought to be equally generous.

Picking up on the tradition of black Friday - the day in which sales move a typical retail business into the profit side of the ledger for the year - we now have all sorts of other events on the calendar: Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and finally Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday is a recent attempt at capitalizing on the frenzy of consumers and the outward flow of cash.

The Bible, however, doesn’t tell us to relegate giving to the money we have left after we’ve been on a buying frenzy. It says to make the gift first - before consuming any of the bounty for ourselves.

It is a thought to which I intend to give more attention and focus as I think through the meaning of this season. For now, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving. May this season bring you both the joys of expressing thanks and the joys of giving.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!