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Thanksgiving: another sort of ‘holy day’

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 22, 2023

Catholic World News (CWN) will be closed tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day.

As a matter of policy, CWN is always closed on holy days of obligation. Thanksgiving does not fall into that category, of course. Yet every year, when we discuss whether or not to post stories on Thanksgiving, I reach the same decision: Our all-American staff should have the day off, to celebrate this most American of holidays.

(It is a factor, I confess, that I know our readership will be down on Thanksgiving Day. The vast majority of our readers are Americans, and most of them will be busy preparing and enjoying the feast, spending time with their families—as they should. To be perfectly honest I don’t want people reading CWN headlines on this day.)

Some years ago, an English friend shocked me by suggesting that the Coronation of a new British sovereign should be recognized as the eighth sacrament of the Church. I admired his patriotic zeal, but the theological confusion behind that suggestion appalled me. (Just to begin exploring that confusion, which church should consider Coronation as a sacrament? Shouldn’t it be the church of which the newly crowned monarch claims to be the head?) The sacraments are instituted by Jesus Christ; no human authority can add to their number.

Holy days fall into a different category, however. The Church can and does put holy days of obligation onto the liturgical calendar, and then sometimes take them off. Families and individuals can keep their own calendars, and mark certain days (the anniversaries of births or deaths or marriages, say) as “holy” for themselves. So I suppose what I am suggesting is that we Americans should think of Thanksgiving as this sort of holy day. (Some other countries have their own days of thanksgiving, appropriately timed to match their own harvests; otherwise I would invite them to join in the American celebration.)

If we think of Thanksgiving as a holy day, we just might challenge the madness of the American secular calendar, which rushes into the celebration of the Christmas season—I mean, the “Holiday” season—immediately after that other great secular feast day, Halloween. As soon as the ghosts and ghoulies come down from the store displays, the reindeer and fir trees go up, and the ads encourage us all to panic because we haven’t finished the mandatory “holiday” shopping. Could we all stop for a moment, between the massive consumption of candy and the massive consumption of… everything… to give thanks for what we have?

The secular celebration of the “holidays” has becoming increasingly toxic, and the observance of Halloween—also now divorced from its Christian origins—is now even more troubling, with the intimations of Satanic activity more and more evident. Somehow Thanksgiving has escaped the corrosive effects of a consumer culture. Perhaps that is because what we consume on this day is not man-made. But far more important, the day is set aside for giving thanks, and the attitude of thanksgiving for what we have tempers the media-fueled desire to have more.

In certain Catholic circles it is fashionable nowadays to downplay the achievements of the American Founding. But as we approach this holiday—this holy day—so firmly embedded in the American culture since the earliest days of the colonies, I give thanks for our Pilgrim forebears as well.

So barring some unexpected development, CWN will be silent tomorrow—and not too active on Friday, either. The news will wait; we have more important business at hand.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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