Each year families gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving. What are we actually celebrating? In 1621 the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, after surviving a rough winter, had a good harvest and together they celebrated the first Thanksgiving with a harvest festival, thanking God for His many blessings.
The original Thanksgiving was a harvest festival. With much hard work and the help of the Indians the Pilgrims came to recognize that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). Whatever good comes to our lives comes from God. This they celebrated on that first Thanksgiving in the New World.
President Washington made Thanksgiving a national event with a proclamation on October 3, 1789. Washington acknowledged our need to thank God for the many blessings bestowed upon us. He wrote:
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God . . . Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be . . . And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.”
It wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln at the urging of Sarah J. Hale that Thanksgiving was made an annual event during the Civil War. He put forth a proclamation on October 3, 1863 establishing the last Thursday of November as the National Thanksgiving Day. President Lincoln’s stated in his proclamation of Thanksgiving:
“I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”
Amidst the Civil War Lincoln acknowledged that a day of thanksgiving and praise to our God should be set aside.
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November at the urging of a retail association and out of concern for the economy. The purpose of this change was to extend the shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with the goal of stimulating the economy as they tried to recover from the Great Depression. President Roosevelt remembered the Christian roots of Thanksgiving in his proclamation and again reminded us to thank God. Today the holiday is held on the fourth Thursday of November nationwide. The focus of Thanksgiving Day has significantly declined through the years. The changing of the date for retailers has shifted our focus away from the original meaning of this day.
What would the originators of Thanksgiving think if they saw how this day has evolved through the years? Are the ways of the world overshadowing the ways of God? We should not let anyone or anything hinder our attention on God. We should strive to take time to give thanks to Him who has given us so much. Praising and thanking God is vital at all times and through all the good times and the difficult times in our lives. St. Paul wrote, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
As believers, we praise God for this spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. God has provided believers with the Holy Spirit who is our source of strength. He has provided us with all that we need. We should indeed worship Him and give thanks for the abundant gifts he has bestowed upon us through Jesus. Paul states, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15). What a wonderful opportunity we have to give thanks!
Thanksgiving Day reminds us that we should give “thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Tomorrow, we should all recall the words of our first president, “It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God.”
Submitted by: Sharon Shipley Zubricky ’76