Jack Santino, professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University, wrote that Thanksgiving is one holiday not wholly given over to children.
Rather than emphasizing the kids, he writes that Thanksgiving is more about honoring age and going to grandmother’s house, as in the song, “Over the River and Through the Woods,” though the original 1844 poem referred to “grandfather’s house.”
Thanksgiving season activities are not centered on children.
Instead, the holiday involves passing down recipes from mother and grandmother, recreating the dishes they prepared in an earlier time, and setting the table with heirloom tablecloths and silverware.
The children are not forgotten, but they might be sent off to eat at a table by themselves.
According to Santino, “Graduating to the main table is a rite of passage.”
The traditional foods serve as a reminder of those who came before us and on whose shoulders we stand.
The emphasis is on matriarchs, patriarchs, family traditions and history, as well as national history. Thanksgiving bucks the trend of a culture fascinated with youth- fulness and whatever is trending now.
It undermines the arrogance among us which tends to look down on the past.
Thanksgiving is that rare holiday when we allow children to learn that the world does not revolve around them and that they are indebted to those of an earlier generation.
Martin Luther explained the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and mother,” as follows: “We should fear and love God that we do not despise our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”
We are not simply to love our parents and other authorities but to honor them, for honor includes not only love, but also humility and deference.
We do this in spite of their failings, for when we revere them, we revere God who placed them over us.
All that we have, God has given to us through them.
To paraphrase the Apostle John, “If we cannot love those whom we have seen, we cannot love God whom we have not seen.”
Norman Rockwell’s famous painting, “Freedom from Want,” captures this well.
It pictures several generations of smiling faces around a Thanksgiving table.
The focal point is obviously a large turkey on a serving tray.
But holding the turkey is the matriarch of the family, and behind her stands the patriarch, fitting reminders that God gives to us through those whom he has placed over us.
That is a truth to be appreciated by adults and impressed upon every child.
The Rev. John Armstrong is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Columbus and may be reached at gracecolumbus.org.