Turkey Day is a happy day. But why do we cram so much family, food, and football into one intense celebration? – Because they represent important aspects of life. The Thanksgiving feast with all its traditions symbolizes life at its fullest. The turkey I’m about to eat is not just food but a symbol of the overall sustenance that God provides. Family and friends around the table are not just pleasant company but a representation of the heavenly feast when all God’s children will dine together in harmony. Football or shopping are typically little pleasures, but on Thanksgiving and Black Friday they get totally blown out of proportion – watching for 12 hours straight followed by shopping for 12 hours straight. Everything around Thanksgiving is bigger than life – the group assembled around the table, they don’t see each other most of the year but here they enact what harmony and closeness could look like. The Thanksgiving meal itself has an average of 4,500 calories – over two days worth of energy for the typical adult.
Family, food, and football are all awesome. But Thanksgiving is intended to be a day of prayer. People have always prayed out of gratefulness when they made it through tough times, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:1) Now, praying is a habit that so often is limited to asking for stuff: health and wealth and all kinds of blessings. Thanksgiving is a reminder that prayers do not have to be on our own behalf but that we are free to pray for God’s sake. Jesus modeled that during the last supper, “Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'” (Luke 22:19). Jesus’s last supper was in the context for a formal Seder. So when the text says “he had given thanks”, Jesus probably spoke these words over the bread:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְ‑יָ אֱ‑לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ
and over the wine:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְ‑יָ אֱ‑לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth / Who creates the fruit of the vine.
Even the most mundane Thanksgiving traditions put on public display what we owe God gratitude for: Sustenance, relationships and pleasures. Now saying thank you and blessing the King of the Universe puts responsibility on us as the ones performing those rituals: We are called to make sure that all God’s children have access to the blessings of healthy and plentiful nutrition, loving and caring relationships, and uplifting relaxation and fun. My prayer this Thanksgiving: “King of the Universe, thank you for the feast, the fun, as well as family and friends. Use us to bring these blessings to those who need them more – the hungry, the sad, the lonely. Amen.”