A uniquely American holiday

Published 7:55 pm Tuesday, November 24, 2015

We Americans will gather around our home tables — or in a restaurant — tomorrow to share in the centuries-old tradition of Thanksgiving.

Some of us will say a simple blessing learned in their youth. Others will rise to the occasion and speak of the country’s history and traditions, and of the blessings God has bestowed on our forefathers and on us.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Family traditions will reign. Hunters will spend the day afield. Grandparents will greet their extended families. Others will be content dozing in front of the television as football teams clash.

Whatever the tradition, Thanksgiving is first and last a uniquely American holiday. Unlike Independence Day, which celebrates our ancestors’ bold declaration of freedom, Thanksgiving celebrates what our ancestors were given to call divine providence — the guidance of God over the affairs of man.

Thus Thanksgiving is religious, but not in the sense of Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, Passover or Ramadan. Those observances are integral parts of the great religions of the world, celebrating specific beliefs, specific interpretations of theology and major tenets of faith by a specific religious group.

Thanksgiving is far more encompassing than any of these, and thus more American. It invites Americans to contemplate, in whatever way they choose, the very broad idea of providence — that there is a power that transcends man and that this divine power is good and benevolent.

Most of us in this nation do indeed believe in a God that is active and involved in some way in the world. At the very least, we want to. We pray for rain when it is needed and give thanks when it arrives. We pray for the safe delivery of a child, or for negative medical test results. We pray for the souls of those who have died and strength for those who live on.

In a day when religious zealots here and abroad are shouting to be heard, and are demanding the impossible — that all men and women must think alike — Thanksgiving stands as a symbol for the freedom of thought and conscience that has made this nation the greatest on Earth.

It strikes me that zealots among Christians as well as other religions ought to be more comfortable in their own belief. If God is indeed active in the affairs of man, and has indeed blessed this nation as we believe He has, could it not be that God has done so for the very reason that we are a nation open to vastly different beliefs — a place where all men and women are welcome and are free to believe or not believe as they choose. Could it not be that the freedom of thought, which so frightens the zealot, is the very strength of this nation — and the greatest blessing of divine providence.