Three aspects of Thanksgiving

Praising, sharing, protecting—there are many different ways to celebrate Thanksgiving. The congregations around the world set their own focus and priorities. And not all will be celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend.

The first Sunday in October: this is the day on which New Apostolic congregations worldwide traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving. The significance of the feast varies greatly from country to country. For the brothers and sisters in Brazil, Thanksgiving means a divine service. But it is nowhere near being such an important social event in congregational life as it is in South East Asia for example. There Thanksgiving is really celebrated—almost like Christmas.

Praising God in song

There are many reasons to be grateful to God. This is something that is not only heard from the altar. In fact, Church members voice their gratitude in many ways. Brothers and sisters in the congregations of Balingen and Sinsheim in Germany, for example, can pen a personal thank-you note and tack it on a pinboard displayed in the church.

There are many ways to express gratitude. One of them, praising God in song, is the method chosen in Unna and Bünde (Western Germany), where concerts will take place, as well as in Berlin. Here, the Thanksgiving celebrations will kick off on Saturday already. The congregations of Heilbronn, Stuttgart, and Kornwestheim (Southern Germany) will also mark Thanksgiving with choral, orchestral, or organ concerts on Saturday.

Giving thanks by sharing

The benefit concert by three youth choirs in Freudenstadt (Southern Germany) points to another aspect of thanksgiving. Just as love of God and love of one’s neighbour go together, gratitude to God also has an effect on our fellow human beings—by sharing with others. For one, we all have the possibility to give a special thank-offering. Many also express their gratitude through individual traditions and actions.

In Paris (France), for example, the members begin with the adorning of their altar only on Thanksgiving morning: many brothers and sisters bring fruits, vegetables, and bread and place them before the altar. After the divine service the members divide the produce among themselves. Many congregations around the world make a point of specifically giving the food to the less fortunate. That is why, for example, South African congregations sometimes display canned goods as part of their Thanksgiving decorations.

Many congregations in Argentina practise a very special tradition of giving and sharing. They prepare small gifts in advance, and after the service everyone who attended receives a small token. But sharing and giving is not limited to our own circle. In Berlin (Germany), for example, some of the congregations donate to food banks, where people in need can buy food at very reasonable prices. The New Apostolic Church Southern Germany provides extensive funds in its area: the charity, human aktiv, donates 80,000 Euros to food banks.

Giving thanks and protecting the environment

Those who care for their neighbour should also not forget the coming generations. This is what the District Church Berlin-Brandenburg (Germany) had in mind when it came up with its motto: “Praise the Creator – Preserve the Creation”. Part of the district’s thank-offering will go to a nature conservation organisation. In turn, the congregations will receive information on how to treat the natural environment with respect.

The District Church is pursuing this approach not only to follow a trend, but also because it is something that is basically entrenched in the Old Testament already. This is how Markus Cromhout, the theologian of the New Apostolic Church Southern Africa, explains it: the Israelites and Jews did not see themselves as the owners of the land they worked and cultivated, but merely as God’s tenants.

A season of Thanksgiving

As the songs of praise gradually fade on the other continents and the altars are cleared of the produce, the brothers and sisters in North America are just beginning with their Thanksgiving celebrations. For a long time, the members in North America celebrated Thanksgiving twice: the Canadians a week before the national Thanksgiving holiday and then on the second Monday in October, Thanksgiving Day; the Americans on the first Sunday of October and then on the fourth Thursday in November, their national Thanksgiving Day.

In the meantime, the Church in the USA celebrates Thanksgiving on the Sunday before the country’s national Thanksgiving Day, a family feast that is on par with Christmas. Until now, however, there was no season to lead up to and prepare the members for this holiday—like the Advent season before Christmas or Holy Week before Easter. This is exactly what the Church in the USA is introducing this year: beginning this weekend, the divine services will focus on an aspect of giving thanks to God in preparation for Thanksgiving.

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