Happy Thanksgiving East and West

My Oxford American Dictionary defines “Pilgrimage” as follows: “A journey made to a place as a mark of respect”

Next week, all across America, Thanksgiving is being celebrated – a day to give thanks for the good things that have passed through our lives this year.

As all my “American Culture” students in China can tell you, in 1620 a ship called the Mayflower sailed west from England and landed in the “New World” and the passengers, the “Pilgrims”, disembarked into a strange and vastly different “New World”. The following November, they celebrated their successful 1st year by giving thanks to all who had helped them.  In China, the closest festivity to Thanksgiving is the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival which occurs early to mid-October. It is a time to celebrate the harvest and, as well, a time to gaze at the full moon and remember family and friends in other places.

Chinese literature is vast and fascinating. It claims 4 Classics that all Chinese students read and study. One of these four classics is “Xi Yu Chi”. Literally translated, it’s title is “Pilgrimage to the West”. It is an allegorical story of one man’s journey to a new land. It is funny and informative by turns. It was first published in 1592.

During the last six years, I also made several pilgrimages of some sorts East. I ventured to China to teach, a place I have long found interesting. And along the way of this fascinating journey, I have much to be thankful for and many to thank. This has been, hands down, the most interesting pilgrimage in my life. Each day in China is a new opportunity to learn new things. And so today, and in this way, I have remembered each of you today and want to thank those near and far; those East and West who have helped make my ventures to China so worthwhile.

Thanksgiving Day is primarely an American holiday. Below I have a posted an article written by Jim Elliff, a trusted friend I deeply respect for his mentoring insights and godly wisdom in the hope it will add to your understanding why we in America celebrate Thanksgiving.

Stuffed: A Thanksgiving Tradition

By: Jim Elliff

There he lay on the floor, swollen in the belly like a boa constrictor after swallowing a calf. It was Thanksgiving Day and my nephew did it again. Sometime between noon and 2 o’clock, the stuffing changed turkeys!

Every year the same thing happens to all of us—it’s tradition. Is that OK? Not if we do it every day of the year. But on Thanksgiving? Go for it! Have no guilt. God taught us to feast on occasion. And don’t feel badly about watching football games after you eat. You’re no good for much else for awhile. However, in all you do thank God with all your heart.

First, realize that eating a big meal on this special day is, in a way, an expression of thanks to God. Thanksgiving Day was our forefathers’ way of celebrating the abundance God gave them after those first bleak days of the Jamestown settlement. What better way to say “thanks” to God than to relish what He provided. It did them good and God was honored. It was the whole year of abundance in a meal. Similarly, we should eat with a full heart of appreciation for God’s bountiful blessings.

But you can do more. Sometime, perhaps later at night with a cup of hot cider in your hands, you should deliberately take time as a family to turn your eyes to the Creator who “supplies you with all good things to enjoy.” It is usually better not to have this extended time of thanks at the feast table. Cooks get nervous about that.

In some homes, sadly, God is not remembered. If you are in such a home, don’t despair, but take some private time for reflecting and thanking God. God understands your dilemma.

Every Thanksgiving Day of my life, I’ve had the privilege of hearing the expressions of family and friends about the goodness of God. It usually brings tears. Regardless of the emotion, it is fitting to talk aloud about God’s blessing. We need to multiply our thanksgiving to God.

Here are some ideas. Don’t forget to prepare your family ahead of time.

  1. Ask each person to take a few moments with one other person to share his or her special reasons for being thankful this year. Then ask each person to express thanks to God for one or two items he or she just heard about in a time of prayer all together.
  2. Have all who will speak in some detail about one other family member who has meant something special to them in their life. Then, if your family is comfortable with it, have those who speak up thank God for what He has done through this person.
  3. Go through the alphabet remembering something to be especially thankful for beginning with each letter. You could go in order around the room. This is an idea the kids can enjoy also. Follow up with prayers of thanks by a few people asked ahead of time.
  4. Toss a foam ball around the room. Whoever catches it offers the next word of gratitude to God.
  5. Ask the oldest generation to tell stories from their history that cause them to be thankful. What happened providentially to bring about a certain benefit?
  6. Ask each person to select a short Bible passage that expresses what they want to say about God and His provision. Each person can then tell why this verse was chosen.
  7. Have the patriarch or the one most commonly known for his or her leadership in the family read a passage of Scripture and tell the group an incident in his or her life that he or she is most thankful for. Or have each of the older generation do this.
  8. Have the younger generation express what they see in the older generation that they are thankful for and would love to emulate.
  9. Or just pray together. Sometimes it is best to ask people to mention just one item at a time, allowing others their opportunity. Then they can chime back in with another item later, for however long you wish.

Well, you get the point. You can mix and match these ideas (or add better ones). The important thing is not the production, but the genuine thankfulness found in our hearts. Some families may have the ability to sing a song (“Great is Thy Faithfulness” or some familiar hymn or chorus; print the words ahead of time). You can figure this all out if you think and pray about it ahead of time. And when it is all finished, you will say, “We’re stuffed not only with food but with so many blessings that we could not remember them all.”

After it’s all over someone will surely shout, “Did I hear someone say there’s a little more pumpkin pie that needs to be eaten?”

Copyright © 2006 Jim Elliff. Permission granted for reproduction in exact form. All other uses require written permission. www.CCWonline.org

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6

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