Why we need Thanksgiving: Hard Work Doesn’t Guarantee Success

November 24, 2011

On this Thanksgiving morning, I discovered an Ayn Rand quote that really got me thinking.

Thanksgiving is a typically American holiday.  In spite of its religious form (giving thanks to God for a good harvest), its essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production.  It is a producers’ holiday.  The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production.

Ayn Rand, despite her atheism, has impressed me immensely on morality — especially in regards to individual responsibility.  (read: objectivism)  However, I believe that her quote shows how atheism can only take you so far.

Thanksgiving is not the celebration of success earned through hard work.  (If that is the case, what are we giving thanks for on Thanksgiving?  Ourselves?)  And it’s because hard work does not guarantee success.  Countless good people sacrifice hours of planning, work, and hurt to achieve success; and yet because of an unfair circumstance, or someone else’s ill-will, or simply a bad break, they do not achieve success.  (Think about the Pilgrims who worked hard and still did not survive their first winter.)  Their heartbreak is tragic, really.

Rather, Thanksgiving is the reminder that — while our hard work can set us up for success and comfort — our blessings and gifts, ultimately, come from God.  It’s a realization that we are not automatically entitled to success because of our hard work. And it’s also the realization that we don’t have to have small gifts oft taken for granted: family, friends, food, a home.  We didn’t have to be born with these gifts.  And even if we were, they could easily be lost.

Thanksgiving reminds us that we don’t have to have anything.  And yet, because of God’s grace, we do.  That’s why it’s so appropriate to dedicate a day of giving thanks to Him, who gives us everything.

In the words of Governor William Bradford in the fall of 1623:

Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forest to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims … do gather at ye meeting house … on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three … there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all his blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!