A Day to Give Thanks
Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States, and Thanksgiving 2021 occurs on Thursday, November 25.
For Christians, Thanksgiving not only has a patriotic history, but it also has spiritual roots that go back to the Old Testament.
In the United States, Thanksgiving is historically a day to praise and thank God the Father for blessings and to ask Him to heal the wounds of the nation. It was also a national day of penitence to humbly repent for our sinfulness and disobedience.
Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving:
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.
History of the First Thanksgiving
Abraham Lincoln wasn't the first president to declare a national day of thanksgiving for the people of the United States. In 1789, George Washington proclaimed "a day of public thanksgiving and thanks" to thank God for his protection and as the source of all that is good. In his proclamation, he wrote,
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 —That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks — for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation…
The history of Thanksgiving in the United States is often traced back to 1621 when the Plymouth Colony settlers and the Wampanoag shared a meal celebrating the harvest. Their trial began in 1620 with the voyage of the storied Mayflower, a 65-day-long ordeal in which 102 men, women, and children crossed the stormy Atlantic in a space the size of a city bus.
Then followed a cruel New England winter for which they were ill-prepared. Due more to exposure than starvation, their number dwindled rapidly, so that by the onset of spring fully half of them had died. Fourteen of the eighteen wives had perished, and widowers and orphans abounded. That the Pilgrims could celebrate at all in this setting was a testimony both to human resilience and heavenly hope.
Yet celebrate they did, sometime in the autumn of 1621 after God had granted them a bountiful harvest. It’s an inspiring story, and it’s good for Christians this Thanksgiving to remember it. I don’t know about you, but I am always encouraged when I sit down with Christian friends and hear of how God has sustained them in hard times.
Remembering the Pilgrims’ story is a lot like that, although the testimony comes to us not from across the room but from across the centuries. The celebration lasted for three days. Here's how settler Edward Winslow described their thankful hearts,
And although it is not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
The tradition of giving thanks continued spontaneously in the colonies.
Winslow wrote at length about the occasion that the Pilgrims would have remembered as their first Thanksgiving Day in America. It occurred in the summer of 1623, nearly two years after the event that we commemorate. During that summer a two-month-long drought threatened to wipe out the Pilgrims’ crops, and the prospect of starvation in the coming winter loomed over them.
In response, Governor Bradford “set apart a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress.” The Pilgrims gathered for a prayer service that lasted some 8-9 hours, and by its end, a day that had begun hot and clear had become overcast, and for the next fourteen days a steady, gentle rain restored the parched earth. “But, O the mercy of our God,” Winslow exulted, “who was as ready to hear as we to ask.” (excerpted from The First Thanksgiving We Don't Remember)
There is no doubt that God calls his people to give thanks.
Thanksgiving Allows Us to Give Praise and Thanks to God
Thanksgiving Reminds Us to Be More Than Grateful
Thanksgiving Is a Response to God's Grace and Love
Christian Meaning and Significance on Thanksgiving
As Christians, we can reclaim Thanksgiving — rather than just being a day where we eat too much and strategize our Black Friday sales plan of attack — we can go back to our historical and spiritual roots as we give thanks to God. We can follow Abraham Lincoln’s example by repenting and asking for God’s forgiveness for our personal sins and our nation’s perverseness.
We should seek to reconcile with others and apologize for the harm we have caused. Our actions should reflect our grateful hearts. We should thank God for the people that are in our lives. We can acknowledge God's blessings as we enjoy a meal with friends and family.
A Simple Prayer for Thanks. Dear God, on this Thanksgiving Day I want to pause and thank you for the blessings surrounding me. For another day, for family, friends, for food on the table. You are the source of all good things and praise you for the simple things that bring us joy. Help us keep our eyes on your this day and every day so our lives may be filled with praise and joy. Amen.
A Thanksgiving Meal Prayer for Blessings Past and Present. Lord God, we gather around this table to humbly thank You for all that You have given us this past year – not just what is on this table, but who is sitting around this table. Thank you for life and laughter, for health and happiness, for relationships and memories. Thank you, too, for the lessons learned and the tears we’ve cried because of Your ability to grow us through them.
Thank You for Your comfort and Your presence, in light of good days and bad. Thank You for what we have now, for what we had yesterday, and for what You will continue to give tomorrow. Let us never take that for granted, but to always be grateful for every good and perfect gift that comes from You. May we have hearts full of thanksgiving not only
As Christians, we can reclaim Thanksgiving. Rather than just being a day where we eat too much and strategize our Black Friday sales plan of attack, we can go back to our historical and spiritual roots as we give thanks to God.