Thanksgiving: A Reactionary Holiday

The First Thanksgiving by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, I feel the need to express my thoughts on this holiday in relation to modern culture and society. Thanksgiving is one of my personal favorite holidays of the year. Since becoming Catholic, Easter has become my overall favorite, but Thanksgiving is easily my favorite “secular” holiday, though I believe that there is a deeply spiritual element to Thanksgiving, a claim I will support in this post. Further, I believe Thanksgiving to be a Reactionary holiday, inasmuch as it reflects values which are no longer generally accepted or affirmed by our modern society.

One need only browse the internet for a brief time before stumbling across some cynical or narcissistic article on how Thanksgiving is bad or how to win arguments with family members at the dinner table. Some go so far as saying it is a racist and bigoted holiday. Thanksgiving has also been increasingly undermined by the combination of Halloween and Christmas. Most people now celebrate Halloween for the whole month of October, and then on the first of November the stores switch to Christmas music and put out the Christmas products, and the Christmas trees begin to go up in homes. Already I have seen some Christmas lights in people’s lawns, much to my disgust.

To any reasonable person, this should all feel very wrong, and that’s because it is. What is Thanksgiving? I think we can identify a few key components that make Thanksgiving significant and meaningful.

First, it is an important piece of the American Mythos in a few ways. The traditional story of the first thanksgiving is an optimistic and symbolic story from the earliest years of the American nation. Pilgrims came to America from England on the Mayflower and founded Plymouth. Unfortunately, many died in this ordeal and the situation was looking grim going into winter. Miraculously, Samoset and Squanto, the latter an English-speaker, visited the settlers and taught them how to grow corn and use fertilizer effectively. The pilgrims then allied with their tribe and formed a mutual defense pact. Then, in the fall of 1621, a few pilgrims went out to hunt and the Wampanoag mistook their gunshots as a preparation for war. The leader of the tribe, Massasoit, visited the pilgrims with a band of his men to ascertain the situation. Obviously, there was no war, so the Indians joined the pilgrims in a harvest celebration, and they had a feast to give thanks for the harvest and for peace. This story is ingrained into my mind very vividly thanks to the Peanuts holiday special that I watch with my family each year. I think most people who have any vague knowledge of American history have a good idea of the basics of this story.

As far as the actual holiday goes, the origins of Thanksgiving taking place on the last Thursday of November goes back to George Washington, another mythical American character. On October 3rd, 1789, President Washington issued a proclamation for a “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” and that day was to be Thursday, the 26th day of November. This whole proclamation is really worth reading because it shows the true Christian character of the American Republic just after the founding. This would be the second significant component of Thanksgiving, the Divine component. In fact, because it is so good, I will simply put the whole thing below:

By the President of the United States of America—
A Proclamation
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their Joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us—and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

President george Washington

To add to its mythical and Christian origins, no one other than the second most well-known president in American history made his own Thanksgiving Day proclamation on October 3rd, 1863. Lincoln, of course, wrote during our darkest hour, and the content reflects this. But it again shows the character of the American nature from the founding up until this point. Could you imagine a modern president saying anything like the following?

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

President Abraham Lincoln

It should be clear, by this point, that Thanksgiving is a thoroughly American and thoroughly Christian holiday by its very origins and nature. The whole point of Thanksgiving, from the beginning, was to celebrate the American nation, the time before the founding, and the many blessings given to the United States by God. Today, the meaning of Thanksgiving has become far vaguer, and this is not by accident. There has been a concerted attack on the Christian American mythos in academia and in the popular culture, and this has carried over to Thanksgiving, undermining the Christian and American nature of the holiday. Most people nowadays simple view Thanksgiving as a vague time of “giving thanks” primarily for family and friends, which culminates in a family get-together. Though family is a huge piece of Thanksgiving, which I will highlight next, it is not the sum total of the holiday. Moreover, we must recognize that when we are “thankful” for something, we are typically thankful because something has been given to us by someone or something else. When we say we are thankful during this time of year, we ought to step back and ask, “thankful to whom?” The answer, of course, should be, as Washington so eloquently put it, “that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be…” In other words, we are giving thanks to God for our family, for our friends, for our many blessings in life. It is the LORD who blesses us, and so Thanksgiving is a time to thank GOD.

Now, as for the family component, this is easily the most prevalent and significant part for most people. Though it becomes less substantial when the divine aspect is removed, I can still appreciate that the family is being celebrated in this holiday. Unfortunately, many do not celebrate the family today. Some want to abolish it. This devaluation of the family is also reflected in general trends. We know that less people are marrying, less people are having children, more people today are single, and more people are cutting off their families for one reason or another, sometimes valid and sometimes not. Because of the general assault on the family in society today—an assault the Church recognizes and sees as an existential threat due to the family being the basic building block of society—it is absolutely necessary that we encourage the celebration of Thanksgiving and the common practices of getting together with family, especially extended family. By celebrating Thanksgiving and especially highlighting the blessing of loves ones and of blood family, we are actively revolting against a core tenet of secular leftist communist ideology, that being the destruction of the traditional family.

Taken together, we can safely say that Thanksgiving is a day of giving thanks to the Christian God for all our blessings, both personal and otherwise, for the settlement of the continent and the emergence of the American nation, for the founding of the Republic, for the continuation of the Republic through great difficulties, for the traditional family, and much more. This is deeply traditionalist and reactionary in today’s culture. I suspect that if you described Thanksgiving in this way, particularly emphasizing the Christian and American component, you would no doubt be called a racist, bigoted, evil white Christian Nationalist by a great many people in this country. This narrative, its suppression, and the subsequent attacks on the holiday should tell you everything you need to know about the modern leftist agenda (which, mind you, is the mainstream agenda).

If you support the traditional family, if you believe in the idea of America held by the pilgrims, by the founders, by George Washington, and even by Lincoln, and if you believe in the Christian God and the necessity of recognizing Him as the source of all good, then I urge you to celebrate Thanksgiving with great fervor, to familiarize yourself with the mythos, to read the documents, and to offer that day up to the Father. I also urge you to extend your time of Thanksgiving. Yes, of course, on Thanksgiving Day this is when we feast and visit with family. But perhaps spend the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving reflecting on all that you have to be thankful to God for in your life. By doing this, you will be rejecting the culture’s quick transition from Halloween to Christmas, and you will be rejecting the materialist and consumerist agenda that would like you to care more about Black Friday than the actual holiday that occurs on Thursday.

I love Thanksgiving, I love its history and its deep Christian meaning, and I love the idea of America that it represents. I hope you find a love for Thanksgiving too and that you and your family, if you have one, have a wonderful celebration. If you don’t, I still encourage you to celebrate the day and give thanks to God.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures for ever!

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wonderful works to the sons of men!

And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
    and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

Psalm 107:1, 21-22

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