Friday, November 20, 2015

Should Christians Celebrate Thanksgiving?

We here at As Bereans Did would like to take a moment in advance you wish you a happy Thanksgiving! We hope our readers in the United States will enjoy a meaningful day with family and friends giving thanks to the One from whom all blessings flow.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, I discovered something interesting while doing research for an upcoming post. Last week I was looking back at one of xHWA’s posts that refuted the pagan origins of Christmas. I found that one of the ancient festivals in question was really several weeks away from December 25th. Instead, it falls uncomfortably close to the American Thanksgiving holiday.

The ancient Roman festival Bruma – one the Churches of God associated with the “so-called” Christian Christmas holiday - was held on November 24. Some scholars believe that Bruma was a one-day celebration that marked the unofficial beginning of winter and heralded the coming solstice. Others believe that Bruma was the beginning of the Brumalia festival, which lasted until December 17.

Wait a minute. A November 24 Roman holiday associated with the solstice? Gasp! Could this possibly taint the American Thanksgiving holiday? Thanksgiving is November 26 this year. When you are gathered around the table with your turkey next week, it will be on the third day of the Brumalia! And next year, Thanksgiving will actually fall on Bruma! Gasp!

No, no, no, you say. Bruma was a Roman holiday. Thanksgiving is totally unrelated. It’s a uniquely American celebration.  Its roots only go as far back as the 1621, when the Pilgrims held a feast to thank the true God for a bountiful harvest. Sure, most did not worship God “in Spirit and truth,” since they kept a Sunday “Sabbath”. But that doesn’t make Thanksgiving wrong.

Hmmm. That’s an interesting point of view.  One which the COGs have used in reverse to criticize anything deceived “Christianity” does for decades. But anyway, back to that first Thanksgiving. Who else celebrated it with the Pilgrims?  Native Americans, of course! Specifically, the Wampanoag Indian tribe.

Now, accounts of how the Wampanoag warriors ended up at the Thanksgiving feast are mixed. We have the classic storybook explanation – that the grateful Pilgrims invited the Native American tribe to share in their harvest feast. Wampanoag historians tell it differently – they say the tribe heard celebratory gunfire and sent warriors to discover whether the Pilgrims were being attacked, or about to attack them. Either way, the Wampanoag warriors came back with their own contribution to the feast – venison and berries and corn and whatnot.

Perhaps the Wampanoag were quick to contribute because they themselves held similar festivals. In fact, the Wampanoag gave thanks many times a year, following each of their harvest seasons. These particular Native Americans held celebrations thanking both Mother Earth and the god Kehtannit at the end of each harvest season. Over time, some came to associate Kehtannit – the supreme deity and creator – with the Christian God.

One celebration during which the Wampanoag thanked the gods was Cranberry Day, an official tribal holiday that celebrates the ripening of the last wild berry.  On Cranberry Day, the Wampanoag thank the creator for this staple fruit that’s stored and used throughout the winter. Some tribal calendars place the celebration in the first week of October; while other Wampanoag experts place it, in antiquity, around the time of the winter solstice.

Many historians date the first Thanksgiving celebration to between September 23 and November 11, 1621. Could it have possibly overlapped with the pagan Wampanoag tribal holiday? If Cranberry Day was in October, then it definitely could have overlapped. And if it were around the time of the winter solstice… GASP!  Could the Wampanoag have subtly influenced the Pilgrims to participate in a solstice celebration? Does the fact that Kehtannit became associated with the true God redeem the celebration of the cranberry harvest? Or does the cranberry celebration’s association with earth-worship taint Thanksgiving?

Bruma, which occurred on November 24, looks forward to the solstice. Bruma kicks off the Brumalia season of debauchery. The Wampanoag tribe, which was a key part of the first Thanksgiving story, celebrated a harvest festival - sometimes associated with the solstice - around the time of Thanksgiving. It even featured a traditional Thanksgiving food! And oh, did I mention that modern researchers have determined Yule did not start as a solstice holiday, but instead was celebrated in mid-November?

There’s no getting around it. Sure, I'm speculating here. But the dates and subject matter do rise to the level of reasonable doubt. There's a good chance that Thanksgiving - or at least elements of it - could be pagan, if you use the same standards the Churches of God and Alexander Hislop use to malign Christmas.

No, Martha, you’re wrong! It doesn’t matter what the Romans, Germanic tribes or Wampanoag were doing! We are not worshiping Cronos, Saturn, Mother Earth or Kehtannit! We are giving thanks to the true God.

Hmmmm… now where have I heard that argument before? Oh right. In the United Church of God's latest issue of The Good News. According to UCG, no matter how well-intentioned a celebration is, worshiping the true God with practices taken from paganism is considered syncretism and an abomination to God.
"No matter how warm and family-oriented your festival is, it is futile and empty before God. Even if you don't care, He does." (The Good News, November-December 2015, p. 15)
So which is it, UCG? Can we create celebrations to honor the true God or can't we? If so, must they be 100 percent free of items that any pagan culture, anywhere, used for non-Christian celebrations on proximal dates? And if the humble cranberry isn't safe, then what is?

I hope by now you realize that I am not trying to discourage anyone from celebrating Thanksgiving. I am just showing how easy it is to create speculative associations with pagan symbols and holidays, superimpose them on an innocent celebration and malign anyone who celebrates it. Speculative associations and proximal dates alone do not make something pagan. There are only 365 days in the year (at least on our modern calendar) and thousands of years of pagan cultures. Put a calendar on the wall, throw a dart at it and you're bound to hit a date that was associated at some time with something pagan.

It is appropriate to thank God for your blessings on any day of the year, no matter what else may have occurred on that date. Just like it is appropriate to thank God any day of the year for sending His Son Jesus Christ to die in your place. And to rejoice in the fact that his birth, life and death make it possible for your sins to be forgiven and for you to inherit eternal life. I hope you’ll be just as generous and open-minded as you are about Thanksgiving when, in the coming weeks, we explore the speculative claims the COGs make about Christmas. For a head start, please read The Quotes Before Christmas and The Plain Truth About December 25th - after you emerge from your turkey coma, that is.

All joking aside, Thanksgiving is positive celebration that's consistent with Christian ideals. Scripture exhorts Christians to show thankfulness, engage in fellowship, share meals and praise God - all elements of a meaningful Thanksgiving holiday . This festival provides a wonderful opportunity for families to reconnect and offer gratitude to their Creator. We sincerely hope our readers enjoy a happy Thanksgiving.

Although you might want to pass on the cranberries. I’m just sayin’.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

1 comment:

xHWA said...

What are you trying to say, Martha? That I can't selectively pick and choose when I am going to apply my own standards? That I really shouldn't have one set of requirements which I use to dismiss Christmas, and then turn right around and dismiss those same standards so I can observe Thanksgiving? That I probably should be consistent and rethink my priorities?

You ask quite a lot there!

What next? That I shouldn't manufacture evidence and instead be intellectually honest?

I'm kinda tired after thinking this through. Very deep stuff to wade through.