Taking the ‘Thanks’ Out of Thanksgiving

Some things have reached absurd proportions in this country. Increasingly, we are taking our rich, diverse cultural heritage—some of it dating back 300 years—and slowly eradicating it, all for the sake of not offending some individual or special-interest group. At no time is this more evident than in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.

Examples abound. A concerned parent recently wrote that whereas a year or two ago teachers in their school district were told not to mention Christmas, Easter or anything relating to God, they cannot even mention the word “Thanksgiving” this year because “the pilgrims offended the Indians” and “Thanksgiving was never intended to be thanks to God!”

Another parent with children in the public schools was upset and concerned when she received a letter from school officials directing classroom mothers not to use plates and napkins with Thanksgiving printed on them at their children’s fall parties. As she recounted, “It seems like they are worried about offending just one person and are worried about law suits. In the past, this school has gone from ‘winter’ parties that banned red and green cupcakes and napkins, to banning any winter party in fear that it may be mistaken for Christmas.”

Several years ago, it was reported that Maryland public school students were free to thank anyone they wanted while learning about the 17th century celebration of Thanksgiving. However, they were not allowed to thank God. Instead, Maryland students read stories about the Pilgrims and Native American Indians, simulated Mayflower voyages, held mock feasts and learned about the famous meal that temporarily allied two very different groups. But teachers did not mention that in addition to thanking the Native Americans for their peaceful three-day indulgence, the Pilgrims repeatedly thanked God.

Clearly, those who founded our country recognized the importance of God in the life of our nation. They also understood the rightness of thanking God for his blessings. For example, it was George Washington who, on October 3, 1789, issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation. In Washington’s words, Americans were to set aside “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.”

So how did we get to the point where the mere mention of God is enough to send some of our fellow citizens into a tailspin—to such an extent that they are now trying to take the “thanks” out of Thanksgiving?

Part of the answer lies in our politically correct society. We have allowed ourselves to become controlled by our fears. Rather than risk offending someone, we would sooner toss our rich history and traditions on the pyre of political correctness. But such an approach is destined for failure. Indeed, even if you breathe, you are sure to offend someone. What is the result? We gain nothing. We water down and suck the life out of what once gave meaning and direction to our lives. In the end, our children will be the ones who lose out, left with little clue as to where they came from or where they may be going in life.

We have also lost our sense of reverence. Too many Americans have little, if any, gratitude for the liberty and material comforts we enjoy—both of which were made possible through great sacrifice. Heedless of our many blessings, as a nation, we are tempting fate.

Indeed, the United States is now at the pinnacle of its power, not unlike England of 1897. At that point in time, England was riding high. But as professor Paul Woodruff recognizes in his book Reverence: “It would be less than twenty years before England began bleeding away its young men in Flanders, and the long slow irreversible march began to the loss of empire.”

It was also during this time that Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem “Recessional.” It is a pointed reminder that power leads to arrogance and arrogance to a fall:

The tumult and the shouting dies
The captain and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
If drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

What is it that we must not forget?

We must not forget that we are mortal. We are born, and we die. And in between, as Washington opines in that first Thanksgiving proclamation, we must not forget “to acknowledge the providence of the Almighty,” “obey his will,” “be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.”

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at Information about the Institute is available at

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