In colonial New England, holidays weren't celebrated as we think of them. There was only the sabbath, observed every Sunday. But when the people were especially blessed, a feast of thanksgiving would be declared—a tradition we still remember every fourth Thursday of November when our nation suddenly grinds to a halt, everybody returns to where they came from, and gratitude is practiced for the blessings of the year.
But things didn't always go well. Sometimes things went poorly, and people realized they needed to change their ways. At such times a fast would be declared, and people would be called to repentance. Just as we have formalized the Thanksgiving feast in our country, this type of fast was institutionalized in Germany on an annual holiday called Buß- und Bettag (Day of Penitence and Prayer). Coïncidentally, it always occurs just before American Thanksgiving, on the second-to-last Wednesday before Advent (between November 16 and 22). It used to be a federal holiday, but is now observed as a full holiday only in Saxony.
And so as we prepare for Thanksgiving, perhaps it's appropriate to meditate not just on how God has blessed us, but on how we have been unfaithful to God. I think it would be wonderful if we celebrated both holidays: first the fast, then the feast.
g.k. Chesterton • O God of earth and altar • llangloffan • first-plymouth bcc • Lincoln Nebraska