Traditionally, Thanksgiving in our society means FAMILY time. People travel many miles so the whole family can be together for the traditional feast. This usually means embracing, loving, sharing memories, catching up on each other’s lives. It sometimes also can be a reminder of past hurts, departed loved ones, broken relationships and differences in beliefs and attitudes. 

That’s one reason for the newer tradition of celebrating FRIENDS-giving, where younger adults get together with their peers; people who are at the same stage of life and share their values. For some, these communal meals replace traditional family gatherings, which have become too impractical because of distance or interpersonal tensions. For others, who may have lost key family members through death or divorce, these friendship groups fill a need for belonging. Also, increasing numbers of young adults find value in celebrating in both the FAMILY and FRIENDS gatherings around Thanksgiving time. 

There’s a third “F” associated with Thanksgiving — FAITH. Ironically, in contrast to Christmas and Easter, this is the one major American holiday that does not have roots in religion. It comes out of a somewhat forced fellowship experience between Native tribespeople and European colonizers, who had distinctly different cultures and religions. However, modern Americans from various backgrounds have found ways to express the thanks in Thanksgiving through the lenses of their own faith traditions. 

This gives us an opportunity — whether in our FAMILY gatherings or in our FRIENDS-giving get-togethers. We can share the meaning of FAITH in our lives in ways that emphasize our commonality in being grateful to God, rather than our different religious understandings about how we experience his gifts in our lives. 

Some families don’t feel free to talk about religion around the Thanksgiving table because the younger people may not accept all or part of the belief system that was passed on to them. Grandpa may use the prayer before the meal to preach a thinly veiled sermon reminding the younger folk that they’re going astray. The more free-thinking kids or grandkids may purposely say things they know will get under his skin. Everybody around the table thinks, “Oh, oh; here we go again!” 

Last Sunday evening, some ABCers joined with people from various faith groups in Altadena for our annual Community Thanksgiving Service. We all said Thank You to God through many faith voices. Download this pdf file of the program, and it will show you how diverse it was. It was very inspiring. 

Why can’t we enrich our experience of Thanksgiving with our FAMILY and with our FRIENDS by focusing our shared FAITH? If we could spend an hour last Sunday agreeing with that diverse group about our grateful dependence on God, we ought to be able to spend an hour this Thursday with the people at our feast table, whether FAMILY or FRIENDS, agreeing on our shared experience of God’s blessing, rather than emphasizing the differences we may have? That’s Thanksgiving FAITH.

– – Pastor George Van Alstine