David Reynolds: Win one for George

I do not wish to be the Grinch who stole Christmas. However, someone stole part of my Thanksgiving. It was bumped almost into October to make room for another holiday. I am sure that there is a good reason why Washington & Lee University decided to make the switch. In the meantime, let us take a second look at W&L’s revealing move – pushing its traditional American Thanksgiving dinner back a week to November 10, in order to make room on November 17 for a Mideastern dinner in celebration of a Muslim holiday.

That holiday is called Eid ul Adha. It is a festival to remember the prophet Ibrahiem’s willingness to sacrifice his son when God so ordered. Accordingly, the holiday is to remind the faithful of their own submission to God, and their own willingness to sacrifice anything to God’s wishes. During the festival, domestic animals, usually sheep, are sacrificed as a symbol of Ibraham’s sacrifice. The meat is distributed among family, friends and the poor. Each group receives the same share.

As for the other holiday, contrary to popular belief Thanksgiving did not originate with the Pilgrims anymore that Christmas comes from Santa Claus. Thanksgiving originated with a proclamation from the father of our country. President Washington’s decree set aside Thursday, November 26, 1789 as “A Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer ” for the people of the United States. It states, “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour . . . to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

It appears that we have two religious holidays facing each other. And one blinked.

What’s going on here? And elsewhere on college campuses? Are we so scared – or quilt ridden – to push aside our once proud Judeo-Christian heritage in order to sacrifice it on an alter of sheep? Have we become sheep? Will Western civilization wither away because we are not willing to defend our way of life?

Let’s be clear here. There is no objection from this corner to celebrating a religious holiday by partaking of the dishes from another part of the world. W&L’s drive for diversity is fine – as long as it does not force others off the road.

Years ago I attended a family wedding held in a mosque in Upper Manhattan. It was a lovely ceremony in a beautiful building. But it was not in Lower Manhattan near Ground Zero. There was no Ground Zero. No one pushed their views in my face. So I saw no need to push back. That is why the vast majority of New Yorkers do not object to another mosque in their city, as long as certain sensitivities are observed, particularly those that respect the wishes of families who lost loved ones in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

If we are to observe the presence of God – from whatever perspective – should we not at the same time make certain that our proud national and community traditions continue to be observed?

Is that the end of the story? Not quite. In 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third Thursday of November in order to boost the depressed economy by extending the Christmas shopping season. After a storm of protest by American citizens across this great land, Roosevelt changed the holiday again in 1941 to the fourth Thursday in November, where it stands today.

Let the record show that while no storm is brewing, there is a protest of one to have Washington and Lee University return to its traditions and serve Thanksgiving dinner on its previous date. Make that a protest of two. I believe I have George’s proxy.

Column by David Reynolds


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