Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving is Swordfish

Well, it’s official. Thanksgiving? Originates from Sukkot. The question is, does that make the holiday kosher or does that fact that right-wing Christians (yes, the Puritans were the Quiverfulls of their day) appropriated and Christianized the holiday make it treyf*? Not only is Thanksgiving based on Sukkot, notes the Jewish Journal, but the parallels between Jews and pilgrims abound:

The Puritan Christians who landed on American shores seeking religious freedom were called pilgrims, in deference to their journey from England. Their dream of finding a place where they’d be free to worship as they pleased is a recurrent theme in Jewish history. After their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the ancient Israelites lived for a week in temporary huts while giving thanks for a plentiful harvest. Likewise, during their first winter in Massachusetts, the pilgrims dwelled in makeshift huts, wigwams that the Indians helped them build.
Danny Sims, a Christian minister from Fort Worth, Texas, recognizes that the great American holiday has Jewish roots. Although he had previously blogged that Thanksgiving has no ties to religion, he posted today that it has indirect ties to the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles (AKA: Sukkot). Apparently, some Christians (even those who do not consider themselves Messianic Jews) celebrate Thanksgiving by staying in Sukkah-like booths. Danny and his family will be staying in their tent camper twice this week and, “When we do, we'll talk about God’s blessings. This is not exactly celebrating the details of the Feast of Booths. But it is celebrating a spirit of thankfulness.” Now, isn’t that nice? In related news, the Roseland United Methodist Church has a Sukkah also (which it calls its Succoth booth) that it uses to house its canned goods drive.

The AJC has a podcast on the connection between Sukkot and Thanksgiving, which is more of an advertisement for a reader they put out highlighting the diversity of America. While I am impressed that they know how to make a podcast, I didn’t need to plug in my earphones to listen to a 30-second radio spot. For the content of the reader, it’s better to visit the website, America’s Table: A Thanksgiving Reader, where you can download a free copy, since I know you are all interested in hearing the AJC’s take on American pluralism.

Joseph Farah’s article, originally posted on World Net Daily, decries the divorce of Thanksgiving from its spiritual and theological roots (it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas).

Yet, there is no way to divorce the spiritual from the celebration of Thanksgiving – at least not the way the Pilgrims envisioned it, a tradition dating back to the ancient Hebrews and their feasts of Succoth and Passover.

Undeterred by the failure of their first approach to economy in the new world, a form of socialism that failed miserably according to the article, they embraced capitalism and, guided by the hand of God, had a plentiful harvest. They set up trading posts with the Indians and started life devoted to free enterprise and God.

But it wasn't just an economic system that allowed the Pilgrims to prosper. It was their devotion to God and His laws. And that's what Thanksgiving is really all about. The Pilgrims recognized that everything we have is a gift from God – even our sorrows. Their Thanksgiving tradition was established to honor God and thank Him for His blessings and His grace.

Fairytale is my favorite genre, too, but at least he agrees that the holiday has biblical roots.

Subversive Influence has a post on Sukkot in relation to Thanksgiving, which you really need to read to believe. I gather Brother Maynard, who writes the blog, is some form of Christian, but damned if I can describe what. Not only does Thanksgiving have biblical roots, according to Maynard, but it’s still part of a vibrant tradition of connecting to God through harvest. Neat.

And lastly, something entirely different: for information on the history of turkey, check out the Oxford University Press, who posted an article by Andrew Smith called “A Traditional American Thanksgiving.” Highly informative, even though it has nothing to do with Sukkot or God.

In answer to my original question, I think Thanksgiving is like swordfish: maybe it’s kosher, maybe it’s not, but it sure is delicious.

*treyf: not kosher


Anonymous said...

Hmm... By saying that the Puritans (referring to, I assume, the Massachusetts Bay branch) Christianized Thanksgiving, you are suggesting that they were the first to use the harvest festival as a Christian day of observance, which is not accurate. The first recorded Thanksgiving, or religous first-harvest festival, was in 1619 in what was the Virginia Colony. Early Virginian settlers were not Puritans so much as they were English (Christian) settlers of many different religious stripes, some more pro-Anglican (establishment) than others.

While Thanksgiving may have been appropriated by the Massachusetts Bay settlers, it was not Christianized by them any more than it was by the many Christian settlers who previously observed what is a common cultural celebration (or time of mourning, depending on how the weather was that year) of the harvest.

Anonymous said...

One correction from my previous comment about "first" Thanksgivings: When I wrote "first recorded Thanksgiving, or religous first-harvest festival," I meant the earliest recorded Christian first-harvest festival in the Colonies.

Also, Masschusetts Bay settlers celebrated their version of Thanksgiving for the first (recorded) time in 1630.

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving!

harley said...

Thank you for your help, anonymous! Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.