Is Thanksgiving a Secular Holiday?

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Published November 21, 2007

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• E-mail Lauren Green
VIDEO: Is Thanksgiving a Secular Holiday?

By now, many of you are either dreaming of a fine turkey meal with all the trimmings, or actually in the throws of cooking one, or maybe even dusting off that fabulous family recipe from Aunt Sarah you've been meaning to tackle.

And, speaking of tackling, that's another fine holiday tradition that scores of people will enjoy on Thursday. Thanksgiving and football have been paired up since 1874 when the first intercollegiate game was played on Thanksgiving Day. Now, of course one might think the day was created for the playing of football.

By the way, it wasn't.

Was it to kick off the Christmas shopping season?

Guess again!

Whatever your traditions are for this holiday weekend, there is one thought that you might want to mull over about Thanksgiving. That is, who should we thank? The creator of football? The providence of Madison Avenue? Or the Food Network?

Thanksgiving is a federal government created holiday. It is not based on any religious doctrine like Christmas, or the commemoration of a historic event like the Fourth of July. It is a holiday created by the government for its people to give thanks.


VIDEO: Is Thanksgiving a Secular Holiday? Lauren Green Reacts.


We all know that this country is currently in conflict over whether God can be mentioned or honored anywhere in the public square; however, just by looking at the proclamation that created Thanksgiving, one could make one believe that Thanksgiving is a religious holiday — and that Abraham Lincoln, was a preacher and not the 16th president of the United States of America.

For years before the proclamation, various kinds of days of thanks were celebrated in the country. Sarah Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book, had persistently written presidents, urging them to establish a national day of thanks. Lincoln listened, and in 1863, while America was embroiled in the midst of a civil war that threatened to tear the country apart, Lincoln wrote in the proclamation about the many blessings the nation could be thankful for.

"No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy." — October 3, 1863 - Thanksgiving Proclamation

Lincoln was a deeply devout and spiritual man. He believed in God, but his faith wasn't cultural or philosophical. It was personal. One could argue he was simply a man of the times, because the majority of citizens and founding fathers practiced a form of Christianity. Over 90 percent of founding era documents reference the Bible, and about 34 percent actually quote the Bible — so, religious language was not unusual.

But there was always something in the way Lincoln lived and delved into politics that gave evidence of him treating faith as a way life not a political agenda. For example, he didn't own slaves, while some of our most revered founding fathers did; Thomas Jefferson and George Washington to name two. But, Lincoln brilliantly knew how to achieve politically what his faith dictated spiritually.

Just read what Lincoln wrote about to whom we were to give thanks:

"It has seemed to me fit and proper that they ['gracious gifts from God'] should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." — October 3, 1863 - Thanksgiving Proclamation

Lincoln's last proclamation for a national day of Thanksgiving would be April 11, 1865, four days before his assassination. But Lincoln had given this country two very important elements of its heritage; its unity and its spiritual strength. Today, unfortunately we've taken both for granted. We could very well be two countries or even several countries constantly at war over trade relations or border controls. But we're not. We are one nation. The Civil War was our great test of fortitude.

We also have the right to worship as we choose, or choose even not to worship. Freedom of religion means that on this Thanksgiving Day we can thank God, thank your neighbor, your friends, yourself ... or no one. So we should at least be grateful for that.

So while you’re mulling over the idea of who to thank or even if you want to be thankful at all, give some thought to be thankful that there is such a place as the United States of America.


• E-mail Lauren Green

Lauren Green serves as a religion correspondent for the FOX News Channel. Prior to this, Green served as a news anchor for “Fox and Friends,” where she provided daily news updates and covered arts for the network. You can read her complete bio here.


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