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What Really is "Thanksgiving?"


Thanksgiving is an interesting and unusual holiday. It is the only holiday to occur regularly in the middle of the week. It does not have the “significance” of Christmas, the modern glamor of Halloween, or the explicitly Christian meaning of Easter. For many Americans, it is “Turkey Day” – that is punctuated by watching the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys play football. It is an opportunity to forget any diet, and to gather around a table filled with delicious smells and sights.

But recently Thanksgiving has been changing. No longer is there only one football game. Many of my friends now serve – horror of horrors! – ham or roast instead of turkey. And howls of protest about how the symbol of American consumer excess, Black Friday, has now invaded Thanksgiving Day itself. Is this just another symbol of change in America? Will I have to give up my favorite holiday of the year?

The_First_Thanksgiving_cph.3g04961I think that the answer lies in the “reason for the season” (to borrow a phrase). Thanksgiving reminds us of our Pilgrim forefathers, with images of a feast attended by black hatted men and feathered Native Americans. But that first Thanksgiving was born from thankfulness of having survived a grueling and deadly sea journey and winter. The journey had taken 66 days to make, and nearly half of the travelers did not survive the trip and hard winter. However, when spring came and the captain of the Mayflower offered free passage to anyone desiring to return, not a single person accepted. How can this be? Can we imagine similar hardiness among Americans who trampled each other over big screen televisions last year?

The difference is not in the thankfulness of the Pilgrims, but in the One to Whom they were thankful. They knew that all of their days were in the hands of the Lord God, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 124:8). They were thankful for what He had provided, and how He was present in their lives. This acknowledgement of the Lord was at the very beginning of our nation, in President George Washington’s Proclamation:

washington-issued-the-first-thanksgiving-proclamation-in-1789WHEREAS, It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor;

WHEREAS, Both the houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness”!

Now, therefore, I do recommend next, to be devoted by the people of the 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.

Are you thankful this day for all that the Lord has blessed you with? Thankful for your family? For your health – for life itself? For the freedom that allows you right now to read these words, and for me to write them? For the roof over your head, and for the food in your home? It may help us to realize that most of the world, both today and throughout history, has not possessed such grand blessings. Contrary to what we think, these blessings are not “rights” that automatically come to us. They come from our Lord, and should cause us to be thankful, along with the Psalmist:

What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. (Psalm 116:12–14)

So today, as you bask in the warm glow of Thanksgiving, in the blessed time of fellowship with friends and family around a table that delights the eyes, nose and mouth, remember to give thanks to the Lord for all with which He has blessed you. Give Him thanks and praise His name:

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! (1 Chronicles 16:8–10)

And if, by God’s Providence, you are experiencing a time of difficulty, remember that your hope is in the Lord, and that the best thing for your soul is to run to Him with thanksgiving in all circumstances. The Lord knows your pain and trials – He sent His Son to endure the suffering and shame of the cross that you might know Him, have victory over sin, and dwell with Him forever. The Apostle Paul, no stranger himself to pain and heartache, wrote words for us to live by this Thanksgiving Day:

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day!



It is truly unfortunate that our current President chose to exclude any reference to the Almighty God in his Thanksgiving message. Guess they never taught what the holiday was for in Organizing 101.

I don't think I've heard about the pilgrims since I was in elementary school. I enjoyed reading this bit of History about them and how their faith was in Christ alone. Thank you for this!

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