Andrew Santella: The war on Christmas spreads to Thanksgiving

Roundup: Talking About History

Anyone who has ever had to listen to foodies argue over which wine pairs best with turkey knows that Thanksgiving can inspire vehement—and tiresome—disagreement. But of all the questions connected with our celebration of Thanksgiving, none provokes as much heat as the debate over religion's place at the table.

A few years ago, some Christians began to sound the alarm about a "war on Christmas," alleging that schools, courts, and local governments were transforming a sacred holiday into a secularized winter festival. Now, much as the 24-hour Christmas music on the radio seems to start earlier each year, a few believers are voicing their worry about the secularization of our society in November instead of December. Concerned about the eroding religious dimension of Thanksgiving, they urge a return to a more sacred holiday. If the war-on-Christmas crowd asks us to put Christ back into Christmas, these Thanksgiving religionists urge us to celebrate Thanksgiving with the emphasis on thanking God. But complaints about a secularized Thanksgiving are even less convincing than the outcry over Christmas.
As holidays go, Thanksgiving has long suffered from an especially acute spiritual identity crisis. Even the most casually religious Americans say grace or otherwise offer thanks before Thanksgiving dinner—even if the thanking is done between pie-eating binges. On the other hand, it's not as common for us to attend a worship service on Thanksgiving as it is on more obviously religious days like Christmas and Easter. So, just how religious of a holiday should we consider Thanksgiving? Some seem to want to answer that question by telling us exactly how and whom to thank.

In Christianity Today's Leadership Journal, Eric Reed decried a "thankless society" that has forgotten the holiday's putative religious significance. R. Albert Mohler Jr. of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary called the secular vision of Thanksgiving "empty and false" on the Washington Post religion blog, On Faith. And conservative Web site WorldNetDaily offers up Thanksgiving-themed magnetic bumper stickers that counsel, "Remember to thank HIM"—perhaps an admonition to those who would merely thank their lucky stars.

For these spiritual defenders of Thanksgiving, it's not so much Christmas-style commercialization that threatens their holiday—although pre-Christmas big-box sales and football on Fox might strike some as unholy distractions. Instead, much of their concern centers on the way the traditional stories of the first Thanksgiving most of us learned in grade school have been disputed, if not abandoned. For religious thanks-givers, it is the attempt to revise the historical record that is helping to strip the holiday of its proper spiritual meaning....

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Stephen Kislock - 11/26/2007

about Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day?

John R. Maass - 11/25/2007

This is a silly, disorganized piece that makes no point.