With Thanksgiving Day this week, I want to talk a little about how we should give thanks to God, not just on one day a year, but every hour of every day.
The First Thanksgiving
First of all, I want to now briefly discuss the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth, and how it is being distorted today. The Pilgrims were very devout Christians, so they knew the importance of thanking God despite having endured terrible hardships. They are credited with starting this tradition of Thanksgiving Day in the US. However, this observance is almost certainly based on harvest festivals in that go back thousands of years in which people thanks God (or the gods) for a successful harvest. They acknowledged that a greater power was at work on the earth, and they gave thanks and praise for their blessings.
Unfortunately today the true meaning of that first Thanksgiving is being lost in our culture that is striving to eliminate God from everything. I encourage you to teach your children and grandchildren the true meaning of the day to offset the watered-down secularized version they are learning elsewhere. Today children are often taught that the reason the Pilgrims threw this party was to thank the Indians for their crucial help.
The truth is that the local Indians were invited to dinner out of a sense of gratitude for their help, but that wasn’t the purpose of the dinner. The dinner was given in thanksgiving to Almighty God for a successful harvest and for sparing those who did survive that difficult time.
The Pilgrims knew the Hebrew Scriptures, where there is much written about thanking God. The Pilgrims took them very seriously. The idea of giving thanks to God with a feast was inspired by that knowledge of the Bible. In a very real way, the Pilgrims saw themselves, too, as chosen people of God being led to a Promised Land.
At the table, they acknowledged “God’s good providence” and “blessed the God of Heaven who brought us over the furious ocean.” For “what could sustain us but the Spirit of God and His grace?” asked Bradford, their leader. He then quoted Moses, “Our fathers cried unto Him and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity.” (Deuteronomy 26:7)
In addition to proclaiming a day of thanksgiving, as the ancient Hebrews did before them, the Pilgrims praised God’s for his lovingkindness, as found in Psalms 106 and 107 (“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His kindness endures forever”).
This “thanksgiving” idea took different forms in colonial America. It wasn’t until George Washington, the republic’s first president, proclaimed Nov. 26, 1789, as a day for thanking God for bringing America through its trials, that an official holiday was marked. Washington, as a devout believer, knew with all his heart that America would be blessed only if it acknowledged the Source of all blessings.
Later, in 1863, with the nation torn apart by the Civil War, Lincoln re-instituted the tradition. Then, in 1941, with a global war threatening, Congress established the fourth Thursday of November as the day for Americans to thank God.
Thanksgiving Day isn’t about some vague sense of thankfulness for our good fortune, but we should be specifically expressing our gratitude to God. For what? For his many blessings to us.
More on giving thanks to God in future posts.