Bahai News - Faiths Come Together for Thanksgiving Saturday, November 18, 2000

Faiths Come Together for Thanksgiving:
Unlike many other holidays, this is a day no
singlereligion can claim

BY PEGGY FLETCHER STACK
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE


Ah, Thanksgiving -- that sweet national holiday of feasting, family and football.
It has so many advantages that Christmas lacks. No religious dogma or competing rituals, symbols or songs to fight about. No pagan origins. No overcommercialization.
A completely non-controversial holiday. With only a few spoilsports.
"Thanksgiving works because it is not a high holy day for any of us," says Deanna Clark, the moderator for Utah's Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The day has "religious overtones without being particular to one religion," Clark says. "It is something we can all buy into and cooperate with."
More than a decade ago Clark helped organize the first Interfaith Thanksgiving Service sponsored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, now known as the National Conference of Community and Justice.
The 11th Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service will be held Sunday at the LDS Tabernacle on Temple Square at 6 p.m. Members of dozens of faiths, including Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon and Baha'i, will participate in the event.
This year, Clark is helping launch a second celebration, the first-ever interfaith service sponsored by the City of Holladay Interfaith Council. That service will also take place on Sunday at the LDS Cottonwood Second Stake, 2080 E. Donelson (5165 S. Highland Drive) from 5 to 6 p.m.
The Holladay service is being sponsored by seven different faith groups, including Jewish, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, several Protestant congregations and one stake (including several congregations) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The service will include prayers and hymns from various religious texts, music by L'Chaim, a Jewish folk choir, and a speech by Greek Orthodox historian Constantine Skedros titled "The American Dream."
"It will bring together different believers in a way that they are comfortable," Clark says. "The hardest thing is making sure people do not step on each other's theological toes."
Thanksgiving really has only three dissenters: Jehovah's Witnesses, American Indians and atheists.
Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate Thanksgiving, says Noel Capson, an elder at the faith's Sandy congregation.
"We've never designated a day just to be thankful," Capson says. "We think we should be be thankful every day."
American Indians don't object to the holiday, but claim the story is all told from the Pilgrims' point of view.
"Most of the food [for the first Thanksgiving dinner] was native to this country: turkey, corn, squash, beans, venison, fowl," says Forrest Cuch, director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs.
Indians, particularly on the East Coast, want some credit.
"They had been celebrating the harvest for thousands of years," Cuch says. "Thanksgiving truly is an Indian celebration."
On Thursday, Cuch will get together with his family for a traditional turkey dinner.
"We just say it is an Indian tradition," he says.
Atheists argue that government has no business decreeing a "day of thanksgiving and prayer," says Chris Allen, Utah director for the American Atheists.
Thanksgiving proclamations go back to the Continental Congress, which requested that George Washington "recommend to the People of the United States a day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favours of Almighty God."
According to historian Leo Pieffer, cited in an American Atheists' pamphlet, Washington objected that "it is a business with which Congress has nothing to do; it is a religious matter, and as such is proscribed to us." Alas, the resolution passed anyway, and Washington took pains to use language as broadly acceptable as possible.
Several subsequent U.S. presidents, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, tried but failed to resist declaring a federal holiday for Thanksgiving.
"Only Andrew Jackson had the character and intellect to refuse to proclaim a day of thanksgiving," the American Atheists say in a brochure.
As for Allen, he will be joining his family in Texas for Thanksgiving dinner, he says, "but there will be no prayers said."


©Copyright 2000, The Salt Lake Tribune

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