In these United States, we have been celebrating Thanksgiving for at least thirty years, from what I recall directly as a child. Beyond that, we have to trust other historical sources, which give us a good idea of how this celebration has changed over the years since that first gathering of 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims in 1621. Giving thanks to God is not a new concept, but proclaiming it as a nation is limited to about four places on the world stage, notably the USA and Canada. The first presidential Thanksgiving Day Proclamation was made by our first president, George Washington in 1789. It continued through the next couple presidents, and then fell out of favor until Abraham Lincoln, who in the midst of the Civil War in 1863 also set our now current celebration date as the last Thursday in November. A new presidential proclamation has been issued each year since till now, though the content of each varies somewhat. If you were to make a proclamation of Thanksgiving, or even a prayer for your family, what would it include?
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Growing up, Thanksgiving Day for me was a time to fellowship with extended family and feast together on an overabundance of food. It was a time of celebration, often initiated by someone giving a prayer of thanksgiving before we filled our plates. We learned about the pilgrims in school and made projects out of construction paper to take home, but rarely got much deeper than that. That’s how it is with many traditions, we just do them like this because we always have and seldom ask why. Now, whenever I read the words of the Washington or Lincoln Thanksgiving proclamations, it humbles me. Phrases such as ‘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’ as well as ‘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 trangressions’ leave little doubt as to the message. Even the process of giving thanks (even a simple ‘thank you’) tends to diminish pride and promotes humility, which is something, God knows, we all need.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
As humans, we have a tradition of taking things for granted. We quickly forget the sacrifice and all that it took to gain the freedoms and rights we claim as a nation and as individuals today. One result of this is our tendency to move from a day of gratitude to a day of gluttony a.k.a. ‘Turkey Day,’ which is immediately followed by a day of greed in which we trample over one another to get a good bargain. We are encouraged by our society to spend as little time as necessary focusing on humility and instead, to do things that promote selfishness. So, what can we do to avoid this tendency? One is to regularly (even daily) count your blessings and give thanks for what you have in this life, even if all is not perfect. The Israelites often needed these reminders as well and participated in seven major festivals each year. Another good practice is to serve others and put their needs before ours, which is the ultimate sign of love that Christ illustrated. This will slow the growth of selfishness as much as anything in our lives. So whether you put the hours in preparing a feast for your family, or serving food to strangers, take a moment to give thanks and also to share with others why you do so. They may thank you for it later on.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100
In Gratitude to God,