A Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

Have you noticed a bit of a “bah, humbug” historical revisionist trend creeping into traditional celebrations like Columbus Day, Halloween, Christmas?

Columbus Day now is Indigenous Peoples’ Day. In 1977, the United Nations International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas began discussing replacing Columbus Day in the U.S. with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Chris Columbus no longer is heralded as a seafaring pioneer braving the unknown to discover the New World. Nope. He exploited and enslaved the native owners and gave them smallpox, while importing white privilege.

Then there’s Christmas, for which “happy holiday” is preferable, and Easter, which PETA says exploits bunnies and little chickens. Now there’s a movement to besmirch Thanksgiving, to portray the Norman Rockwell version of the holiday as “fairly recent fiction.” A 2010  Huffpost.com story by Richard Greener, “The True Story of Thanksgiving,” has been resurrected on the Internet. Greener contends that the real story of Thanksgiving was not an idyllic meal between Pilgrims and natives to herald a harvest. No, it was “to celebrate the safe return of a band of heavily armed hunters, all colonial volunteers. They had just returned from their journey to what is now Mystic, Connecticut, where they massacred 700 Pequot Indians.”

That’s pretty grim. We have to acknowledge that the history of man is replete with battles and wars between people who occupied given areas and those who showed up to muscle into the neighborhood. We do, at times, tend to be a bit territorial. Nevertheless, when it comes to Thanksgiving, I’ll take the Norman Rockwell version.

In 1916, a young 22-year-old Rockwell painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post. In the days before television and Internet, the Post was considered by Rockwell as the “greatest show window in the world.” (nrm.org) His career spanned 47 years as an illustrator for the magazine, creating a total of 322 covers. His March 6, 1943 painting, “Freedom From Want,” often is cited in concert with Thanksgiving. It showed a beaming family gathered around a table as grandma and grandpa placed a giant roasted turkey on the table. The work was part of W.W. II efforts to bolster the home front. His November 24, 1945, Thanksgiving painting, “Home for Thanksgiving,” showed a soldier home from the war helping mom peel potatoes. Many of Rockwell’s covers celebrated home, family values, appreciation, and giving thanks. I prefer that theme for Thanksgiving.

At a time of intense political division, rancor, and dour interpretations of history, it’s easy to get lost in pessimism. But Thanksgiving isn’t really about what may or may not have happened a few hundred years ago between  European settlers and native Americans, it’s about you and those you love and a God-centered spirit of thankfulness. Take it from Oprah Winfrey, who said, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Or Willie Nelson who observed, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”

Think about the men and women in the armed forces who will spend this Thanksgiving away from home and loved ones, many in “hot spots,” always in danger. Think about the soldiers, sailors, and airmen and airwomen, and veterans, who are just glad to be home, period!

Think about living in a land of plenty where you actually have leftovers on Thanksgiving day, recognizing the opportunity to donate to and serve charities that serve those not as blessed.

Taking time to give thanks began long before the Pilgrims. Ancient Hebrew texts record priest-king Melchizedek bringing food and wine to Abram (later called Abraham), and Abram’s small team of warriors and the people he rescued, to express thanksgiving for their extraordinary victory of liberation in a battle. Also, having liberated the Hebrew people from enslavement in Egypt, God instituted two thanksgiving celebrations that at the same time observed late spring and fall harvests, and two great events in Jewish history: Shavuot (Feast of Pentecost) and Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles), celebrating receiving the Lord’s liberating Ten Commandments and the Lord’s divine provisions for the wilderness journey, respectively. (See “Thanksgiving: How the Holiday Is Celebrated in the Bible, Paul de Vries, 11/21, 2012, www.christianpost.com)

Yes, dear readers, in a sound bite Twitter world of anger and humbug, I’ll take Norman Rockwell’s visions of America every time. The world around you is what you make of it. May you and those you love and care about, find peace, solace, harmony, and a spirit of gratitude this Thanksgiving. Pass the turkey and gravy, please!


By Lewis J. Walker, CFP®


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