Thanksgiving originated as a celebration commemorating the autumn harvest. The first such celebration took place in 1621, in Plymouth, when the Pilgrims honored God with a three-day feast, thanking their Lord as their protector and the provider of the bountiful blessings they’d enjoyed all year. One of these blessings was the freedom to worship God without persecution. Another blessing was the peace and unity these colonists enjoyed in the New World: according to Edward Winslow, one of the attendees at this first Thanksgiving celebration, 53 Pilgrims sat down to break bread with 90 Native Americans from the Wampanoag Tribe.
Elsewhere in America, New England colonists regularly celebrated “thanksgivings” or designated days of prayer thanking God for His continued blessings. And later, in a 1789 proclamation, George Washington asked the country to observe the celebration nationally. Several decades later, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln went one step further, by designating Thanksgiving as a federal holiday, a time of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Lincoln was correct, as he was in all things presidential, that we Americans owed an incalculable debt of gratitude to God for preserving the country through the turmoil and bloodshed of the War Between the States.
Together, these various celebrations and events formed the Thanksgiving traditions we now observe each year on the last Thursday in November. But do we always remember to express our gratitude to God? America is still standing, still free, still prosperous, still a land for which we should be especially thankful, a land founded upon Judeo-Christian principles; and yet, people today tend to celebrate the feast without acknowledging the Provider of the Feast.
One of the Hebrew names for the God of the Bible is Jehovah Jireh, which essentially translates “The Lord is my Provider.” (See Genesis 22:14) It’s wholly appropriate, because God’s people understood that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above; it comes down from the Father of lights [the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens]….” (James 1:17 ESV)
“And this same God who takes care of [us] will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19 ESV) Will you remember to thank the Great Provider and Sustainer during your Thanksgiving Day festivities?
Now, we fully understand that most people do not view Thanksgiving as a primarily religious holiday. Nevertheless, it is traditionally recognized as a day to give thanks, and to whom do we owe the most thanks if not the Creator of the Universe? In fact, the concept of giving thanks to God is woven into the fabric of Judaism and Christianity. Throughout the Bible there are countless scriptures on giving thanks, such as this one: “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you….” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB)
Furthermore, God would wholeheartedly approve of Thanksgiving. We should daily count our blessings and thank God for His Love and care, but setting aside a special day to do so as a nation demonstrates the magnitude of our gratefulness to God for keeping our country and our families together and prosperous. In fact, God said, “You shalt feast in all the good things which the Lord thy God hath given thee and thy house, thou … and the stranger that is with thee.” (Deuteronomy 26:11, Douay-Rheims trans.) Hm, sounds like a party — with God as the guest of honor!
So, when you sit down with friends and family today, before you carve the turkey, before you pass the sweet potatoes, remember to thank the Provider of your feast. And instead of muttering a quick and haphazard word of “Grace,” tell God in your own words, and with sincerity, how much you appreciate His safekeeping and provisions. Later, after the meal, before you plop down in the recliner to watch the big game, take time with your loved ones, to reflect on all the blessings you’ve reaped throughout the year. Thank the Lord for each one, and praise Him for His faithfulness. He delights in our praises, and He longs to hear our words of gratitude.
“It is good to give thanks to the LORD, and to sing praise to Your name, Most High.” (Psalm 92:1 ISV)