It is time to reclaim the founding myth of Thanksgiving

By David Armstrong-Reiner

November 30, 2019

I have been thinking again …

… about Thanksgiving.

This past week many of us have gathered together with family and friends. We have gorged ourselves on turkey, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, yams, green beans, cranberry sauce, rolls, and pumpkin pie. Parades filled the morning television, and football games filled the afternoon and evening. Perhaps we even have gone out to jump on the earliest of the Black Friday specials.

But have we lost sight of what this day is supposed to mean?

Thanksgiving as a holiday calls us to give thanks. We give thanks to God for our families. We give thanks to God for our health. We give thanks to God for our blessings.

Yet, we have turned this day into a time in which we fulfill our most selfish of wants or desires.

I think about the myths that surround the origins of this American holiday. We talk about the Pilgrims and how they made their way to a new land to begin a new life. We talk about the difficulties and struggles they faced as they encountered this new place. We talk about how those who were born in this land, the native-born, reached out to these foreigners, these Pilgrims, and provided them the help they needed to survive. We talk about how the two came together to celebrate together and give thanks.

I know this is a simplified version. I know that the situation and circumstances were much more complex. But this is the story we have told our children, and it is a good story that we told. It is a story that speaks of getting along with each other despite our differences. It speaks of celebrating across our cultures and our nationalities. It speaks of welcoming the stranger, knowing and helping the other.

And is that not a good vision, a good ideal to uphold?

Here we are, hundreds of years later, and we now are the native-born. We are the ones born in this land. And how have we treated the foreigners, the pilgrims, among us? How have we responded to migrants who come to this country, simply to find a better life? Are they any different than the Pilgrims from long ago?

How have we responded to those different than us in our communities? Have we reached out to those in need, supported them in their struggles, and rejoiced with them in their accomplishments?

It is long past time to reclaim the founding myth of Thanksgiving. It is long past time to not simply fill our bellies and fill our houses. It is time to open our doors and open our hearts.

Gratitude is about more than attitude. Gratitude is a way of life. In gratitude, we give thanks to the One who gave us all things. In gratitude, we give back to God even as we give to those around us, so that all may be blessed and all might know of the overflowing love of God.

May this Thanksgiving spur all of us to such gratitude and such a way of life.

The Rev. David Armstrong-Reiner is pastor at Epiphany Lutheran Church, 2375 Ga. Highway 20 in Conyers. Contact him at