MaizeI’ve got a love affair going with Thanksgiving. It has been going on for over seventy years, as far back as I can remember. Hands down, it’s my favorite holiday of all.

Here’s why.

First of all, it seems to blend together all we Americans hold precious and dear—without the sham and plastic mask of commercialism. Shopping centers jump from Halloween to Christmas. It’s spooks to Santa . . . pumpkins to presents . . . orange and black to red and green. It’s doubtful that any of us has ever seen (or will ever see) a Pilgrim hype. Just can’t be done. Except for grocery stores, merchants are mute when Thanksgiving rolls around.

Second, it highlights the home and family. Thanksgiving is synonymous with stuff that can be found only at home—the warmth of a fireplace, early morning fussing around in the kitchen, kids and grandkids, long-distance phone calls, family reunions, singing around the piano, holding hands and praying before that special meal, the Cowboys versus somebody (they always beat) on the tube, a touch football game in the street or backyard, friends dropping by, pumpkin pie, homemade rolls, and six million calories.

It is a time of quiet reflection upon the past and an annual reminder that God has, again, been ever so faithful. The solid and simple things of life are brought into clear focus, so much so that everything else fades into insignificance.

Thanksgiving is good for our roots . . . it deepens them and strengthens them and thickens them . . . making our trunks and limbs more secure in spite of the threatening gale of our times. The meal, the memories, the music Thanksgiving brings have a way of blocking out the gaunt giant of selfishness and ushering in the sincere spirit of gratitude, love, and genuine joy.

Third, it drips with national nostalgia. For me, even more so than the Fourth of July. That holiday reminds us of a battle we won, giving us independence. This one takes us back to a simple slice of life over 375 years ago when our forefathers and foremothers realized their dependence on each other to survive. With Thanksgiving comes a surge of renewed patriotism, a quiet inner peace that whispers, “I am proud to be an American.”

Thanksgiving puts steel into our patriotic veins. It reminds us of our great heritage. It carries us back with numbing nostalgia to that first dreadful winter at Plymouth where less than half the handful of people survived. It speaks in clear, crisp tones of forgotten terms, like: integrity . . . bravery . . . respect . . . faith . . . vigilance . . . dignity . . . honor . . . freedom . . . discipline . . . sacrifice . . . godliness.

Nostalgia washes over me as I take a walk in the woods and reflect on those brave men and women whose bodies lie beneath white crosses—veterans who fought and died that I might live and be free—and as I consider those statesmen who hammered out our laws on the anvil of wisdom, compassion, and human dignity. People who cared about the future of this grand land, not just their own comforts. Visionaries. Tough-minded, clear-thinking, sacrificial souls who did more than talk about integrity. They modeled it.

Fourth and finally, it turns our heads upward. Just the word Thanksgiving prompts the spirit of humility. Genuine gratitude to God for His mercy, His abundance, His protection, His smile of favor. At this holiday, as at no other, we count our blessings and we run out of time before we exhaust the list. And best of all, life simplifies itself. At Thanksgiving we come back to the soil and the sun and the rain which combine their efforts to produce the miracle of life, resulting in food for our stomachs and shelter for our bodies . . . direct gifts from our God of grace. From the annals of our rich heritage, there has been preserved this announcement which was made more than 375 years ago. It says it all:

To All Ye Pilgrims

Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience; now, I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November ye 29th of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.

—William Bradford
Governor of Plymouth Colony, 1623

Excerpted from Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, Copyright © 1983 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by arrangement with Zondervan Publishing House.