Gramma’s Turkey: A Religious Observance?

This is part 2 of 4 in the collection Advent 2013

Thou shalt visit thy gramma and eat turkey or thou shalt go to hell?

Going to gramma’s for turkey dinner isn’t a religious observance.”comment made during a business planning meeting

Strictly speaking, of course, my colleague was correct. There are no doctrines or dogma in any religion (that I’m aware of) that say “Thou shalt visit thy gramma and eat turkey or thou shalt go to hell.” Nor have I seen a passage anywhere that says “Woe be it to he who does not rave with profuse ravingness over the quality of gramma’s stuffing, even though it may be too dry, or taste as though the sage crop of a thousand farms were poured into it, or even if it shall contain radishes (seriously. Who would put radishes in stuffing??)”. Or how about … well, you get the idea. A “religious observance”, at least in the sense of what qualifies for when we can take a day off work, is generally not a social occasion; or at least not a casual one.

Which, when I stop to think about it, seems a bit strange to me.

We define our religion in terms of doctrine: what we believe about God; when we should observe occasions like Christmas and Easter; whether baptism is a “sprinkler” or a “dunker”; and so on.

But what about our faith? Religion is a set of rules and regulations. Faith is our living relationship with Theos. It’s the ongoing and sometimes unexpected encounter with the Divine.

By that definition my colleague was wrong. Christmas dinner at gramma’s may not be a religious observance, but it is an observance of faith.

In the 1600s the Puritans banned Christmas in England and in North American communities where they had influence. They were concerned about the non-Christian origins of many Christmas traditions. They would have had a lot in common with people today who object to the recognition of other faiths at this time of year.

The Puritans also, like my co-worker, could see that for many people Christmas had no religious connection at all. It was just an opportunity to party. Today, organizers of programs like Operation Red Nose, that give inebriated drivers in many communities safe rides home, can no doubt sympathize.

And of course, there’s the perennial lament that Christmas is too commercial; that it’s become nothing more than a tool for corporations to convince us to spend our money on things that we don’t really need.

Maybe it’s time that we, like the Puritans three hundred and fifty years ago, ban Christmas altogether.


It’s up to us how we respond to enticements (and yes, I wanted to use the word temptations there) to treat Christmas as being about nothing more than things. It’s up to us to recognize the Immanence of God in all that we do.

And that includes turkey dinner at Gramma’s.

It also includes indulging in “pagan” traditions like yule logs, gift-giving, and decorating the front porch with colored lights.

There’s a place for the contemplation of what God With Us – Emmanuel – means. That, as I mentioned in the previous article, is what Advent is all about.

But there’s also a place for plain joyful celebration. It isn’t a matter of choosing between reflection or revelry; of dour-faced faith or painted baubles and present-wrapped fun. It doesn’t matter whether we get together in the name of a religion, or just because, when the days are short and the nights are long, we need the companionship of friends and family.

Our challenge as Christians is to remember that we’re never separated from God; that the Immanence of Theos means that no matter where we are or what we’re doing, God is With Us.

 “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” - Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas


Next/Previous in Collection<< Happy Holidays … While the Merry Bells Keep RingingAdvent 1 2013 – Hope >>
  • David Keating

    Here's a comment sent to me by Lisa C. Reposted by permission:

    Here's something from Pope Francis's statement today (or which there's a whole lot to quote but I like this one):
    "Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."

    And contrast with, Sarah Palin's recent gaff.…. No comment…