In sports, there is a debate (between interesting and inane) about the meaning of a “Most Valuable Player” award: is it the best “individual” player (often measured in terms of a handful of statistics) or the player who is most valuable to his team (without that player, the team would not be nearly as good)?
The same could be said for holidays. For Christians, the “greatest” holidays are Christmas, Good Friday, and especially, Easter. But I’d argue that Thanksgiving is still the “best” holiday.
Christmas has a lot of cultural and consumerist baggage. Good Friday is vital but not the end of the story. And Easter gets overlooked easily– and in any case, doesn’t have an easy or appropriate way to celebrate it.
But Thanksgiving– at least in its ideal form– is awesome. It’s a time for extended family to gather and reflect, a four-day weekend which begins with gratitude and ends with worship, a grand opportunity to enjoy the fruit of the earth in combination with creative human preparation, and most of all, a time to enjoy God’s blessings and “give thanks”.
In this sense, Thanksgiving is like every other great holiday. It is meant to be a special celebration of that which we should celebrate every day. From Valentines Day to Mothers Day, from Veterans Day to July 4th, we set aside certain days for explicit celebration. But at the same time, the “event” is meant to be a continuous “lifestyle”– to celebrate, remember, or observe each of these every day of our lives. In this sense, all holidays are perhaps best understood through their etymology– as “holy days”– special but emblematic.
Speaking of etymology, I’m not certain that the words “grace” and “gratitude” are related. (A quick flip through my Websters does not resolve the question.) But they are certainly related conceptually. One angle on the Gospel is that Christians are grateful for God’s offer of grace and are then drawn to feeling and expressing graciousness in every aspect of their lives.
Thanksgiving allows Christians to celebrate God’s grace in its many forms– from the “common grace” extended to all to the providential graces of history through God’s sovereignty, from the universal grace available to all in Jesus Christ to the specific graces afforded to each of us in our daily lives.
In a sense, then, Thanksgiving allows us to celebrate Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter in one fell swoop. If so, maybe Thanksgiving is both the best and the greatest holiday of them all.