Thursday, November 24, 2011

Six Dubious Evangelical Lessons of Thanksgiving

Actual Pilgrim photo from 1621
I’ve seen a few Thanksgivings in my day. In fact, Thanksgiving is my day--I was born on Thanksgiving in 1955 (please, no turkey jokes). Here are six valuable lessons from the most Christian holiday left in America, which has officially changed it’s name to Black Friday Eve. If used correctly they could set Evangelicalism back 400 years.

1). Thanksgiving is the only Christian holiday that does not require going to church. Unless you’re a pilgrim. Modern Christians are surprised to discover that Pilgrim services routinely lasted four hours or more, which made watching the Detroit Lions game extremely difficult (this is why the Cowboys are America’s Team--they always play the late game). Actually, Evangelicals used to gather at their house of worship the fourth Thursday each November but when the megachurch movement sprang up in the 1970’s, Bill Hybels, Robert Schuller and Jerry Falwell met secretly and signed the Mayflower Compact, which guaranteed that all church services should last no more than 59 minutes. Now, entire Evangelical services have been whittled down to the same length as the original Thanksgiving prayer.
2). Be careful what traditions you start, because they may stick around 390 years. Wives and Moms know what I’m talking about: in 1621 Myles Standish, William Bradford, and Abraham Lincoln told their wives they had invited a few friends over to help them invent football. Twenty minutes later Chief Massasoit and 90 of his friends showed up expecting a meal. Ever since that day, women cook for a week in advance because they are thankful it took another 299 years before the NFL was founded.
3). Pilgrim fashion was even more strict than their morality. You couldn’t wear white after Labor Day, and after Thanksgiving you had to wear black until spring. The “Black Winter-wear Rule,” as it came to be known, was dropped soon after relationships with Native Americans deteriorated, because black clothing against a snowy background made too good of a target. Also, Pilgrims had the gift of prophecy and foresaw the Goth movement. However, because white was forbidden, everyone compromised on grey. 390 years later, it turns out Native American fashion wins out: Christian hipsters sport piercings, tattoos and faux-hawks (and you thought feathers in your hair was just a fad).
4). Squanto’s biggest contribution to the Plymouth Colony was teaching the British how to carve a turkey. History books will try to tell you that Squanto educated the settlers about fishing, farming, and fashion, but the real story is too ugly for family conversation. Let’s just say it involves British gentlemen who left their butlers back in England: they mutilated the poor turkey so badly that everyone went hungry their first winter in the New World. 
5). Pilgrim spirituality is the reason we have on-line giving today. It’s no secret the Plymouth Colony was big into tithing: nine potatoes for you, and one for the Almighty. People who wanted to cheat on the tithe were easy to spot because they weighed more than everyone else. There was no hiding your prosperity--or your posterior. It took a few centuries, but we’ve finally discovered the most private way to give: on-line.
6). The debate continues over whether the Pilgrims were True Evangelicals. I’ll settle this: Pilgrims couldn’t have been Evangelicals because their sermons did not contain three points, each beginning with the same letter. Pilgrim preachers started with “A” and used the whole alphabet--for their introduction. Also, their worship sets lacked the punch we’ve come to expect--but not for lack of effort. The Pilgrims introduced theater-style lighting in their services but the 500 colored candles burned down their first three sanctuaries. Another Pilgrim came up with the idea using fog to set a worshipful mood, but they had to wait for bad weather to roll in from the bay. It resulted in no worship at all from May through September and set the Evangelical movement back 250 years until D.L. Moody adapted his method of selling shoes into what we now call “Evangelism.”
Personally, I’ll always love Thanksgiving because I’m still deeply connected to its spiritual roots. Did I mention that this year my birthday also falls on Thanksgiving? You can send your gifts FedEx Express--they deliver on Holidays. I’ll be even more thankful this year.


  1. Happy Birthday! We have the same birthday, but I wasn't born on Thanksgiving. You were born on my first Thanksgiving birthday, i.e., the first time after I was born that Thanksgiving fell on the 24th. I wonder why we say "fell" BTW. English is weird.

  2. Thanks, Colleen, and many happy returns of the day for you, too! Yes, English *is* weird!