Turkey … and a lot of it! Oh, sometimes ham and other times both together. We have a pretty traditional Thanksgiving celebration each year, including watching football, playing board games and eating great desserts such as pumpkin pie and fudge.
We celebrate Thanksgiving each year on the day that was set aside by Congress, the fourth Thursday of November. It’s interesting to note that there was a Thanksgiving feast celebrated by the Pilgrims as far back as 1607. It was a day that they would prepare a great feast and be thankful for all that they had. Thankfulness in general is a great trait for any person to have in their life, but these early Pilgrims were very specific in whom they were being thankful to, God.
The first Thanksgiving that we recognize officially happened at the Plymouth plantation and was attended by more than 50 settlers and 70 Native Americans and was called a harvest celebration.
George Washington concurred with Congress in 1777 and made Thanksgiving a holiday, which was celebrated at that time in early December. It was not until Abraham Lincoln was president and during the ravages of the Civil War that Thanksgiving Day, as we know it now, was recognized and scheduled for the fourth Thursday of each November.
The proclamation that was written and then signed by Lincoln was written by his secretary of state, William Seward, and had a very lengthy early paragraph that described the beginnings and the growth of this new country. After that long section the proclamation noted, “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
The idea of thankfulness is really an expression of gratitude. Our early forefathers seem to understand that when you were being thankful it required someone to be thankful to, to show gratitude toward. They extended their thankfulness to the God of the Bible for his providence. They were convinced that all that they had – in good times and in hard times – were from their spiritual benefactor.
The Bible has a lot to say about thankfulness. Not because God requires us to be thankful to him because it will make him greater or larger; after all, God is complete as he is and does not “need” our thankfulness to be “more God.” No, God requires us to be thankful because when we are thankful to him we are expressing a simple truth, that he is sovereign and we are totally dependent upon him.
In the New Testament the writer gives a very accurate description of what our thankfulness should look like. He says, “… singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:16b-17).
I enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday, for so many reasons. Obviously I enjoy the food, and the extra time off from work is always appreciated. But most of all I enjoy time spent with loved ones – family and friends, time that is uninterrupted; sometimes that day is full of activities that we do together and other times just a blank slate, a day of relaxation with each other.
I noticed that these times of the early thanksgivings came about as the early Pilgrims prepared for the winter following a harvest and acknowledged their grateful presence in this new land.
Lincoln and Congress memorialized this day for Thanksgiving in the midst of our nation’s most bloody and contentious war. I believe this reveals an attitude of gratitude –thankfulness, in challenging times as well as bountiful times.
Come this Thursday my prayer is that I will remember to thank God for his provision and guidance, his blessings that I enjoy as I live in the most prosperous and free country in the history of the world. If you are reading this I would ask you to join in that same prayer that day. Let’s acknowledge the God who has given us so much because he loves us so much. Have a great Thanksgiving!
The Rev. John Myers is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Salida.