Thoughts on Thanksgiving Day

A Brief History

Thanksgiving. This day provides an important reminder of the blessing of religious freedom and the importance of giving God thanks. Here is a quick glance at the history of this day.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln officially declared the last Thursday of each November to be a national holiday. He pronounced it as a day for “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Before this declaration, in 1789, President George Washington recommended a similar celebration. Here is what he said:

Now therefore do I 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…That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for… the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness…for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed…

Before this recommendation, 53 Pilgrim colonists and 90 Massasoit Indians celebrated a harvest feast together in October 1621. While many point to this feast as the “First Thanksgiving,” the first actual Thanksgiving occurred two years later in 1623, at the end of July. It featured a lengthy church service and no feasting. The colonists called this observance a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise, and it commonly followed a Day of Humiliation, Prayer and Fasting.

The first actual Thanksgiving occurred in 1623. It featured a lengthy church service and no feasting.

By the turn of the century, the colonial government followed a cycle of yearly Fast Days in the spring and Thanksgivings in autumn. (For more historical insights on these early observances of fasting and thanksgiving, click here.)

A Christian Perspective

Whatever you do on Thanksgiving, it is very appropriate to reflect upon the historical significance of this observance. Doing this reminds us that the United States benefits from an early awareness and sensitivity to the God of the Bible. Whatever their strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, these colonists feared God. We should be thankful for these men and women who settled in the New World to worship God freely, according to their conscientious understanding of the Bible.

Furthermore, we should be thankful for presidents like Washington and Lincoln who later recognized the importance of giving appropriate thanks and praise to God Almighty. After all, it is God who brought the colonists to the New World and provided them with freedom to worship, while meeting their physical needs and enabling them to survive and prosper.

Yes, for a born again Christian, every day is a thanksgiving day (Eph. 5:20). And if my United States calendar gives me the final Thursday of every November to focus on appropriate thanksgiving, then I will take it. And I will thank him for the freedom to do so (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

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