In a cultural environment where anything goes, the use of the words religion/religious makes people uneasy. The reason is that a majority of people believe that we live in a predominantly secular culture without the need of any moral constraints or guidelines. This type of mindset promotes the perception that abiding to any ethical standard would infringe on individual’s civil rights. This uneasiness with civility and religion is oblivious to the fact that our contemporary world is dominated by popular media cults that are sectarian, regressive and divisive.
Consequently some clarification is needed to explain the nature of civil religion, and more specifically the meaning of religion: It comes from the Roman Latin word religio. It relates to the proper rituals and ceremonies dedicated to the gods performed by the mortals in order to maintain the beneficial order and prosperity of the city-zens of Rome.
Religio is foremost civil and civic, and implicitly political. It reflects the power of the gods being the eternal representatives of hierarchy embodied by the mortal rulers of Rome.
As a side note, the word religion is not used in the Old Testament. And the few times the word appears, it relates to foreign belief systems considered heathen or pagan. It does not show up in the synoptic Gospels. The word is only used in later epistles influenced by the predominant Roman culture. What the Bible reveals is faith in the presence of the almighty who communicates with individuals whom he sets apart to instruct, to lead, to prophetize and govern God’s chosen people. Making sure they abide with the covenant he made with them and the commandments he gave them.
In the US Thanksgiving is a national holiday. A similar holiday is celebrated in many other countries on various dates. It is a day set apart, on a Roman calendar we still use today, as feriae or holy days. Citizens are off work and most institutions and commercial activity is kept to a minimum. Incidentally, the act of “setting apart” is a specific attribute of what is defined as sacred and holy.
The early Settlers were mostly Puritans and Protestants. As such they inaugurated a faith based holiday of Thanksgiving giving thanks for their harvest. In the course of time the celebration became more secular and civic in function.
Today, Thanksgiving is the occasion to share and give thanks for a harvest made with modern means of production and distribution. It is a day set apart to congregate with family, friends and strangers, for the purpose of sharing a meal.
Commensality, or the fellowship at the table of sharing a meal, resonates with people from varied cultures throughout history from varied parts of the world as a ritual that binds a group together. Thanksgiving connects each and every group in a civic union celebrated nationwide. It is a civil religious feast to give thanks for the material benefits and security shared by its citizens.
Thanksgiving is a civil religious holiday. It is a ritual that has been celebrated throughout history by the People to give thanks for a harvest and economic benefits provided by an American political Union.