macys-thanksgiving-parade-hed-2012Macy’s is destroying Thanksgiving!  After 87 years of the magical Macy’s Day Parade, now they have done something to destroy their brand.  Even though 50 million TV viewers will tune in, and 3.5 million spectators will come to see the crew from the Today Show, along with Cirque de Soliel, the Cherokee National Youth Choir, the cast of Sesame Street and Duck Dynasty,  and of course the star of the show, Santa Claus (not Matt Lauer) will all be there for this American Family Tradition (as the NBC website proclaims).  But this year a cold wind will blow down 5th Avenue, because the Grinch’s at corporate headquarters want to steal Thanksgiving from your family, have decided to open Macy’s for shopping at 8 PM on Thanksgiving Day.  I know every other big box store is doing it-I expect this kind of wanton behavior from Best Buy and Toys R Us.  But not Macy’s.


“Please write an obituary because I think this death needs to be acknowledged,” one observer told Chicago’s Daily Herald upon hearing of Macy’s decision, giving voice to a sentiment felt by many. “It is the death of Thanksgiving.”


We were counting on you Macy’s, to hold the line against rampant commercialism invading our family feast.  At least Walmart is in the spirit of giving, holding a food drive for its employees, who are apparently going hungry because someone pays them crappy wages.  How thoughtful!  As I was mourning this tragedy I came across a story on Marketwatch, the Wall Street Journal’s more sober financial website, with the headline, “The Real Reason Stores Are Open on Thanksgiving.”  It turns out that while American families are watching the parade on TV and being thankful for their blessings, they also spent $633 million in online purchases on Thanksgiving Day last year.  Amazon never sleeps so they keep moving the target at Target to open earlier for shopping.   In its press release, Macy’s says the doors will be unlocked “in response to interest from customers who prefer to start their shopping early, they are just doing what we demand, what is a good big box store to do?


To all this concern about the sanctity of Thanksgiving, I say-let it go.  I used to rant about this kind of stuff, but now I just poke a little fun, because I’m not a big fan of the merging of national and religious holidays.   I think national and religious holidays should be kept distinct, each having its own place.  I’m a huge fan of the 4th and July and I love fireworks, but it is not a religious holiday and I don’t preach July 4 sermons, I follow the lectionary.  And Christmas and Easter belong to the church and should be celebrated there, and generally I am skeptical about too much mixing of holidays.  Which is why I have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving, because it falls between the cracks of national and religious holiday.  Our pastor’s study group had a vigorous debate last Tuesday as to whether we should be preaching a Thanksgiving Sunday or follow the lectionary and preach Reign of Christ Sunday, the last Sunday of the lectionary year before beginning Advent and a new church year next week.  We split down the middle and most of us decided we would do both.

I didn’t like Christianity’s making bargains with the prevailing culture to begin with.  Here was the bargain.  The church gets Sunday morning, Christmas and Easter and the sphere of private morality and family values.  And in return the church blesses American prosperity, exceptionalism and Empire, and keeps its nose out of politics, wars and government, and public moral issues regarding the common good Because Empires are always about wealth, power and dominance, while a church that follows a crucified Jesus is called to be with those who are suffering and oppressed.  A follower of Jesus isn’t looking for the seats of honor and power in the world, but is looking to see who isn’t at the table, who is left out in the cold.


But what about America as a city on the hill, a Christian nation, it says “in God we Trust” on our money, so surely that must be good for the church?  (Do you know when “in God we trust” went on our money?  1956, thanks to Dwight Eisenhower.)  Out of curiosity I went back and read Thanksgiving Proclamations given by presidents, including the very first one delivered by George Washington in 1789, which was the first national day of Thanksgiving, not just a local celebration such as at Plymouth.  Washington had a lot of good things to say about God.  In fact it echoes some of the themes that Paul wrote in Colossians 1, our lectionary reading for the day.  Washington wrote:

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-

Sounds great doesn’t it?  What religious person could object to that?  In fact, the Heritage Foundation has this proclamation on its website as an example of the Christian faith of the early founders of America.  However, many good Christian legislators, especially those in the South, objected to Washington’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation.  Why?  Because they felt prayer was a private matter and the federal government had no business mandating it.  Sound familiar?


So what was Washington so thankful for that we wanted everyone in the US to celebrate it in a day of prayer?  First, he said, how about the great Providence we experienced at the conclusion of the late war?  Now we had really ended hostilities with the British six years earlier, so you have to wonder if Washington is still trying to remind everyone that he was the general in charge of that win.  But Washington was also trying to call forth a time of national purpose, where all the states were on the same side.  He was finding unity much harder to achieve when there was not a common enemy.


Next Washington gives thanks for the most recent piece of legislation passed by the Continental Congress – the constitution went into effect that year in 1789, and the Bill of Rights was passed the week before this Thanksgiving legislation was offered.  Washington writes:


-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;


It is most interesting to see who offered the Thanksgiving bill to the floor of Congress.  It was James Madison, who was a strong Federalist, a believer in a strong national government.  And the bill of Rights was to protect the rights of States and individuals against Federal power, so I would love to know whether this call for a day of Thanksgiving was an olive branch to celebrate the great compromise of the nation between Federalists and states-rights advocates to finally form a national government six years after the war and in the first year of Washington’s presidency.


Washington concludes with a nod towards forgiveness towards are national transgressions (which will be left carefully unnamed) and the hope for good government, true religion and virtue, the increase of science and trusting in God to have enough prosperity as God alone knows to be best.


We look back over 200 years and think of these times as the great historic, mythical moments.  But back in the day the outcomes were far from sure, and the successes were incomplete, controversial and tenuous….just like our lives today.  There is still so much left undone, much that is still argued, and small steps taken forward and backwards every day.  Can we give thanks amidst the tumults, of victories that are majority votes, amidst tenuous, imperfect outcomes made by fallible people, with the final outcome uncertain?   If we are waiting for things to be perfect to be thankful, we are doomed to ingratitude.  This is true in both politics, in families and in churches.   So let us give thanks, even for the partial and incomplete blessings, the work still left undone, the justice that inches forward though incomplete, the healing that gives us strength to go on even if we still hurt.  With thankful hearts we stretch to God that blessings may not only flow to us, but also through us, that we may share in being a source of blessing to others.