Against Federal Holidays, For Thanksgiving

There are only two "civil" holidays I get behind, Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day. And they both rate well behind "church" holidays in my book, even though I know that as a good American I should have Christmas and Thanksgiving ranked as my top two.

The telling of time each year, the festivals we celebrate, are crucial to how we tell our family the story of who they are. We refuse to celebrate state-mandated holidays like Labor Day because they tell us that being a "laborer", a productive member of the state, is an important part of who we are. So of course, if you know us at all, you know that Easter and Christmas must be our most important holidays; being the living inheritors of God's promises is what is most important to us.

Being Christians is the most fundamental part of our beings, but being Swaits also means we are Americans. So we celebrate the American holidays; at least, we celebrate the more "organic" and covenantal (federal? representative?) of the holidays. The American national anthem is a very good example of my thinking in this area. Most countries have anthems that originated in 19th century nationalism. These anthems are paeans to the State, accompanied by promises of undying devotion from its citizens. The American national anthem was not written for the purpose it ended up serving; it was written to honor the spirit of particular Americans fighting in a particular battle. Of course it also paid homage to the nation the men represented; and the song organically emerged as a national anthem.

The people of the United States do have a state-imposed "anthem" of a sort. Public school children are made to recite the "Pledge of Allegiance". If I told you that the Pledge had been penned by a devoted socialist, would the words seem a little more creepy? And your beloved "under God" was only added in the middle of the 20th century to distinguish us from the godless heathen commies (not that the "under God" makes the thing any better).

Labor Day is the easy one to attack, but it, along with MLK Day, Memorial Day, et al., are like the Pledge: begun by the putative most fundamental institution in our lives to give those lives a sense of rhythm and purpose. Not in some sinister conspiratorial way, but by men who really believe that there's no civitas more fundamental than the state. And we accept them because we think they're right.

But they're not. For Christians, being Christian is the foundation of our story. Civically, being a "folk" is more fundamental than being citizens of this state; being this particular folk is what our story emerged from. So we celebrate the holidays of our folk, the ones with stories, and Thanksgiving is such a one.

This was going to be a post on thankfulness. It clearly is not. So I'll stop it here, and might be able to write a post on thankfulness later!


  1. Thanksgiving Day is one of our greatest national accomplishments; Independence Day is one of our greatest failures. On the one the one we declare ourselves in humble reliance upon divine grace. On the other we declare ourselves no longer loyal to our rightful sovereign, and we proceed to celebrate the actions of those who killed his representatives. I am not writing these things to pick a fight; I would genuinely like to understand the rationale of the many reasonable people who hold July 4 in high regard.

  2. One of the pleasant things about the Anglo-Saxon inheritance is the (enforced and acted upon) idea that sovereigns and subjects are bound to each other in mutual obligation. If someone wants to argue that the Hanoverian kings weren't keeping up their end of the bargain, I won't fight too hard against that, even though I tend to have "Tory" tendencies.

    And note: Hanoverian. There have been many kings.

    The kings of men are not like the King of Kings, and our loyalty to them ought not to be unquestioning or complete. Our relationship to them isn't even as strong as, say, the relationship of marriage. The closest thing it comes to is father-son, and I think a case can be made that the United States had simply grown up, and had to go about setting up his own house, for better or for worse. When you consider such things, the War for Independence was a remarkably civil affair.

    So the short answer is, "rightful sovereign" doesn't mean the same thing when we're speaking of God or man. Nations rise, nations fall, blessed be the name of the Lord. The War for Independence might not have had the firmest covenantal footing, but I think it had enough.


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