Of all the holidays on our calendar, only one has not lent itself to being exploited by the merchants. Perhaps this explains why today Thanksgiving is barely a speed bump between Halloween and Christmas, why stores go from orange and black to red and green with no pause in between. What do you do with a day that has been set aside for the express purpose of bowing in worship and thanksgiving before Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth. There is no room for Santa Claus or Easter Bunny type characters. It is a holiday that is not about us but about the One, who, through His divine providence grants His children the blessings of life and breath and being and provision.
As you gather with your family and friends in thanksgiving this week, take a moment to remember the ones who first celebrated a thanksgiving day on this continent and thus established a tradition whereby God’s children still bow in humble adoration and thanksgiving before the one who is indeed Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
Scripture encourages thanksgiving for the Providential goodness of God: “Oh give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness is everlasting. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! For He has satisfied the thirst soul and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good. Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His works with joyful singing” (Psalm 107:1, 8-9, 22).
Among the first American settlers, the Pilgrims were faithful to give God thanks when they arrived in the New World on November 11, 1620. “Having undertaken for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith,” according to the Mayflower Compact, Pilgrim leader William Bradford described their thankfulness upon disembarking their ship: “Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth…What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace?”
The Pilgrim’s practice of celebrating Thanksgiving took hold in New England, eventually spreading into neighboring colonies and becoming an annual tradition. During the War for Independence, the Continental Congress made eight Thanksgiving proclamations. President George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation under the U.S. Constitution on October 3, 1789, just days after the Bill of Rights was approved. It it was President Abraham Lincoln who established a national Thanksgiving Day holiday. On October 3, 1863, Lincoln made the following Thanksgiving proclamation: “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies… 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…”