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Thanksgiving or Turkey Day?

Is Thanksgiving a "secular holiday"?
by Thomas A. Flynn, LC | Source:

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am always reminded of a peculiar event that happened to me in high school.  One day our English professor stood before his teenage scholars and proclaimed that Thanksgiving was a secular holiday.  To justify his doctrine he told us that all you need to celebrate this feast is a turkey and football.  He seemed to have a point back then, but the more I think about it the more I find myself questioning my aged professor. 

   I agree that it would seem a bit odd celebrating Thanksgiving without a turkey.  Spaghetti, tacos and egg rolls would seem quite out of place on a table with mashed potatoes and stuffing.  Yet, is it a turkey that unites thousands of families across the country? 

   Though watching football is certainly a Thanksgiving tradition, along with eating grandma’s famous apple pie and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, none of them could be considered the heart of Thanksgiving.  What many call “Turkey Day” now seems to have little if no resemblance to the first Thanksgiving celebrated back in 1621. 

   Then, the pilgrims (English puritans who arrived from Holland) knew to whom they were giving thanks and for what reasons.  After surviving a bumpy boat ride across the Atlantic in the dead of winter, they arrived at Plymouth and began to settle in.  Roughly half of those who set out on the Mayflower would die of starvation over the next few months.  However, with the help of the natives these pilgrims learned how to harvest corn, hunt and catch fish thus ending their deadly fast and forming a mutual friendship with the Indians.

   In all of this, the pilgrims saw the hand of God and knew that they should be thankful for all they had been given.  Abandoned to providence in a foreign land, they renewed their trust in God and sang his praises for all that they had received.  Almost 400 years later, that is what we celebrate on the last Thursday of each November.  It’s a time to reflect on all we have been given by God and to praise him for his greatness. 

   Pope John Paul II stressed this point when talking about Thanksgiving back in 2001.  There he called all faithful to contemplate the words of the Our Father which state, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Two ideas are seen in this phrase.  The first is that we ask for “daily bread”.   It is a reminder that we are all dependant upon the daily sustenance of Divine Providence.  We do not pray for an abundance of bread, or tomorrow’s bread; simply our daily bread and our daily provisions (both natural and supernatural).  This gift must not be taken for granted and we should be forever indebted to God for it.

   The second point the Holy Father underlined was the word our in “our daily bread”.  We are all children of God and we must strive to supply daily bread for each and every one of God’s children.  In this way we will live more worthily and together give thanks to God.

   Thanksgiving is without a doubt the most American of all holidays.  In calling it a holiday (holy-day) we should remember just how non-secular it really is.  Before you slice a turkey and dig into a bowl of stuffing this year, make sure you take some time to thank God who has blessed you so much.

 Thomas A. Flynn, LC studies for the priesthood in Rome.

He can be reached at

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Post a Comment
Published by: gusnabo ernesto basura carnelli
Date: 2010-11-27 16:30:31
I´m not like de turkey. I eat empanadas, asado, chorizos,morcillas y chinchulines. Viva la Santa Iglesia Católica Apostólica Romana y la República Argentina !!! Gracias.

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