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Yesterday, as my 6-month-old chomped on some teething toys and threw rattles across the room, I watched “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and got excited for the quickly approaching day of gratitude.

If you haven’t seen the short movie or don’t remember it, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” is about Charlie Brown trying to put together a Thanksgiving feast for a few friends after they unexpectedly invite themselves over.

With the help of Snoopy and Linus, Charlie Brown prepares popcorn and toast and sets up a dining space in his backyard. When the guests arrive, everyone sits down and Peppermint Patty, pushy as always, insists on a prayer.

“Are we going to have a prayer? It’s Thanksgiving, you know,” she says.

Her question got me thinking not just about giving thanks, but also about the holiday’s links to religion. Has Thanksgiving always involved expressions of faith?

Through some online research, I learned that Thanksgiving used to be more formally religious than it is today. For the Pilgrims and other early Americans, it fit within the tradition of harvest festivals, during which communities celebrated and gave thanks to God for their crops.

“In ancient times, the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans feasted and paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest. Thanksgiving also bears a resemblance to the ancient Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot,” according to

Native Americans who took part in the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims had their own long history of feasting after the fall harvest, the article said.

As Americans got involved in trades other than farming, Thanksgiving became less like a harvest festival and more like a general day of gratitude, but God was still at the center.

In his proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as an official holiday, President Abraham Lincoln specifically urged Americans to pray, reported.

Today, as in the past, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to give thanks, but not all who celebrate it are giving thanks to God.

Over time, as the holiday — and the country — grew more secular, its message of gratitude became detached from a particular religion, Religion Unplugged reported in 2019, noting that participants now thank whatever supreme being they’re comfortable with or maybe even just the people they’re celebrating with.

“This uniquely American tradition has a universal meaning to everyone, regardless of faith, place of birth or religion — or lack thereof,” the article said.

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Last Thursday, Nov. 16, was the 30th anniversary of former President Bill Clinton’s signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is one of the United States’ most significant faith-related laws.

The federal policy enables religious groups and individuals to challenge laws that interfere with their religious practices, even if the interference is incidental. They can sue for a religious exemption and, in that way, force policymakers to articulate why they believe offering such an exemption would undermine the law, as I explained in my article tied to the 30th anniversary. Judges then decide whether the government’s concerns are valid or if the policy goals can still be achieved with an exemption or accommodation in place.

Over the past three decades, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has led to major legal victories for people of faith, including many members of minority groups. But it’s also fueled controversy, especially in cases involving the LGBTQ community. My story explores why the act matters and what the future could hold.

What I’m reading...

Wednesday marks 60 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. For Religion Unplugged, Bobby Ross Jr. wrote a fascinating anniversary story focused on the sermons that were delivered in Dallas churches after Kennedy was killed.

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By raising tens of thousands of dollars for underprivileged communities in Rio de Janeiro, Taylor Swift fans in Brazil got to see the city’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue wearing (or at least appearing to wear) a shirt honoring the famous singer. “Young people like challenges. So we directed the energy of fans to do good,” said the Rev. Omar Raposo, rector of the Christ the Redeemer Archdiocesan Sanctuary, to The Associated Press.

Computer-generated (and, in my opinion, quite creepy) videos of a figure who’s meant to be Jesus Christ are making the rounds on TikTok in a modern-day version of a chain letter, according to The Conversation.

Odds and ends

How can you not click on this headline? — Welcome to the Housekeeping Olympics. Start your vacuums.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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