Thesis: Thanksgiving is a day which is recognized by the United States Government to give thanks to the Lord God Almighty. Yes - it is a religious holiday and as you study the history of this day you clearly see that it was about giving thanks to the Lord for all his divine provision for the country and for us as individuals.
A PSALM. FOR GIVING THANKS.
1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
A PSALM OF PRAISE. OF DAVID.
1 Iwill exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
3 Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
4 One generation will commend your works to another;
they will tell of your mighty acts.
5 They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
6 They will tell of the power of your awesome works,
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
7 They will celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
8 The LORD is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
9 The LORD is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All you have made will praise you, O LORD;
your saints will extol you.
11 They will tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might,
12 so that all men may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
The LORD is faithful to all his promises
and loving toward all he has made.
14 The LORD upholds all those who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and loving toward all he has made.
18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The LORD watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever.
Video Illustration: From Blue Fish TV – Presidential Prayers
Historical Background of Thanksgiving:
Information from Dennis Rupert “The True Thanksgiving Story”
Who observed the first Thanksgiving?
The first recorded Christian thanksgiving in America occurred in Texas on May 23, 1541 when Spanish explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, and his men held a service of thanksgiving after finding food, water, and pasture for their animals in the Panhandle.
Another thanksgiving service occurred on June 30, 1564 when French Huguenot colonists celebrated in solemn praise and thanksgiving in a settlement near what is now Jacksonville, Florida.
On August 9, 1607 English settlers led by Captain George Popham joined Abnaki Indians along Maine’s Kennebec River for a harvest feast and prayer meeting. The colonists, living under the Plymouth Company charter, established Fort St. George around the same time as the founding of Virginia’s Jamestown colony. Unlike Jamestown, however, this site was abandoned a year later.
Two years before the Pilgrims on December 4, 1619, a group of 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation in what is now Charles City, Virginia. The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a day of thanksgiving to God. Captain John Woodleaf held the service of thanksgiving. Here is the section of the Charter of Berkley Plantation which specifies the thanksgiving service:
"Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty god."
What about the Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving?
In a children’s book called The First Thanksgiving, the author, Jean Craighead George says, the Pilgrims left Europe "to seek their fortune in the New World."1 That would have come as news to the Pilgrims themselves. Pilgrim leader William Bradford wrote in his diary that the voyage was motivated by "a great hope for advancing the kingdom of Christ."
The Pilgrims set aground at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620. Their first winter was devastating. Weakened by the seven-week crossing and the need to establish housing, they came down with pneumonia and consumption. They began to die -- one per day, then two, and sometimes three. They dug the graves at night, so that the Indians would not see how their numbers were dwindling. At one point, there were only seven persons able to fetch wood, make fires, and care for the sick. By the spring, they had lost 46 of the original 102 who sailed on the Mayflower.2
The Pilgrims obviously needed help and it came from an English-speaking member of the Wampanoag nation, Squanto. Squanto decided to stay with the Pilgrims for the next few months and teach them how to survive. He brought them food and skins, taught them how to cultivate new vegetables and how to build Indian-style houses. He educated the Pilgrims on poisonous plants, medicine, how to get sap from the maple trees, use fish for fertilizer, and dozens of other skills needed for their survival.
SQUANTO: A PICTURE OF FORGIVENESS
In 1605, Squanto, a Native American from the village of Patuxet and a member of the Pokanokit Wampanoag nation traveled to England with an explorer named John Weymouth. He experienced high adventure and learned some English.
But on his return to America--the tide began to turn against Squanto. He was captured from Massachusetts and taken, along with other Indians, by an English ship captain and sold into slavery in Málaga, Spain.
There, Squanto was bought by a Spanish monk, who treated him well, freed him from slavery, and taught him the Christian faith. Squanto eventually made his way to England -- where he improved his English --and worked in the stables of a man named John Slaney. Slaney sympathized with Squanto’s desire to return home, and he promised to put the Indian on the first vessel bound for America.
It wasn’t until 1618 -- ten years after Squanto was first kidnapped --that he was on a ship returning to America as a free man
upon arrival to America he learned of the second blow delivered by the English. His tribe had died from an epidemic, probably of smallpox brought by the earlier colonists. He and another Indian, Samoset, went to live with the neighboring tribe of the Wampanoag near present-day Plymouth, MA. There he was introduced to the new Pilgrim settlers.
And there, Squanto became a picture of forgiveness. Even though he had been captured by the English, and deprived of family and friends because of their disease, he still chose to help the 47 who had barely survived their first, harsh winter. He helped them build warm houses, he taught them when to plant their corn crop and how it should be planted. Without his help, there would not have been 20 acres of corn produced that year. Squanto also advised the Pilgrims in their relations with the Indians. He helped them make friends, acted as interpreter, guided them on trading expeditions, and gave advice on bargaining with the natives.
The Pilgrims wouldn’t have made it through the year without the wisdom and guidance of Squanto.
SOURCE: SermonCentral Staff Citations: R. Christopher Ministries, A THANKSGIVING STORY: "GOD’S SAVING GRACE… & SQUANTO"
Bill Petro. HISTORY OF THANKSGIVING: FRIENDLY INDIAN? http://www.billpetro.com/HolidayHistory/
The harvest of 1621 was a bountiful one and the remaining colonists decided to celebrate with a feast. The author of The First Thanksgiving states, "This was not a day of Pilgrim thanksgiving." Instead, she writes, "This was pure celebration."3 This is the type of subtle a statement that occurs in reading about the Pilgrim’s first thanksgiving. It is not based on factual history. One can only guess at the motives of people who write such things, but statements like this appear to be motivated by a desire to rob the event of any religious meaning.
It is quite true that the word "thanksgiving" is not used in referring to the feast. Much is made of this by secular authors who attempt to reinterpret the Pilgrim thanksgiving. But the only letter that we have telling us about the first Thanksgiving praises God for the harvest, makes reference to the "goodness of God" in providing for them, and says that the feast was held so that they "might after a special manner rejoice together."4 That sounds like a Thanksgiving feast to me!
Were there other thanksgiving feasts held by the Pilgrims?
The Pilgrim’s first thanksgiving feast was not repeated the following year. In the third year, when many of them had become preoccupied with cultivating more land, and building on to their houses, and planting extra corn for trading with the Indians, they were stricken by a prolonged drought. Week followed week with no rain, until even the Indians had no recollection of such a thing ever happening before. The sun-blasted corn withered on its stalks and became tinder dry, and beneath it the ground cracked open and was so powdery that any normal rain would be of little use. And still the heavens were as brass.
Finally, in July, Governor Bradford called a council of the chief men. It was obvious that God was withholding the rain for a reason, and they had better find out why. Bradford declared a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, and they gathered in their blockhouse church and began to search their hearts. It turned out that even these ’saints’, had things to repent for -- spiritual pride, jealousy, vindictiveness, and greed, as well as a number of broken relationships. One after another, as they became convicted, they asked God’s forgiveness and that of their fellow Pilgrims.
A tender, peaceful spirit grew among them and was enhanced as each hour passed. Late in the afternoon, as they emerged from the blockhouse, the sky which that morning had been hard and clear (as it had been every morning for nearly two months), was now covered with clouds all around them. The following morning, it began to rain -- a gentle rain that continued on and off for fourteen days straight. Writing of it, Bradford said:
"It came, without either wind, or thunder, or any violence, and by degreese in yt abundance, as that ye earth was thorowly wete and soked therwith. Which did so apparently revive & quicken ye decayed corne & other fruits, as was wonderfull to see, and made ye Indeans astonished to behold; and afterwards the Lord sent them shuch seasonable showers, with enterchange of faire warme weather, as, through his blessing, caused a fruitfull & liberall harvest, to their no small comforte and rejoycing."
Their harvest that fall, was so abundant that they ended up with a surplus -- to the benefit of Indians to the north who had not had a good growing season. To everyone’s delight, the Governor "sett aparte a day of thanksgiveing" and apparently once again invited Chief Massasoit and his braves to eat with them.7
Was Thanksgiving practiced during the early days of the United States?
December 18, 1777 marked the first time that all 13 colonies joined in a thanksgiving celebration. It commemorated the patriotic victory over the British at Saratoga:
"It is therefore recommended by Congress, that Thursday the 18th. day of December next be set apart for Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise; that at one time, and with one voice, the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that, together with their sincere acknowledgements and offerings they may join the penitent confession of their sins; and supplications for such further blessings as they stand in need of."
President George Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving for November 26, 1789 to honor the formation of the United States government. His proclamation called for a day of prayer and giving thanks to God. It was to be celebrated by all religious denominations, but discord among the colonies prevented it from being practiced by all the states. Washington wrote in his November 26th diary entry: "Being the day appointed for a thanksgiving I went to St. Paul’s Chapel though it was most inclement and stormy--but few people at Church." President Washington later provided money, food, and beer to debtors spending the holiday in a New York City jail.
Thanksgiving failed to become an annual tradition at this time. Only Presidents Washington, Adams, and Madison declared national days of thanks in their terms. Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams considered the practice to infringe upon the separation of church and state. During the War of 1812, President Madison proclaimed three days of fasting and prayer in response to Congressional requests (August 20, 1812, September 9, 1813, and January 12, 1815). He was the last president to call for a national thanksgiving until Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Governors, on the other hand--particularly in the New England states, regularly issued proclamations of thanksgiving.
How did Thanksgiving become a yearly national practice?
It was Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor, whose efforts eventually led to what we recognize as Thanksgiving. Hale wrote many editorials championing her cause in her Boston Ladies’ Magazine, and later, in Godey’s Lady’s Book. She was fired with the determination of having the whole nation join together in setting apart a national day for giving thanks "unto Him from who all blessings flow."
By 1852, Hale’s campaign succeeded in uniting 29 states in marking the last Thursday of November as "Thanksgiving Day."
Finally, after a 40-year campaign of writing editorials and letters to governors and presidents, Hale’s passion became a reality. On September 28, 1863, Sarah Josepha Hale wrote a letter to President Lincoln and urged him to have the "day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival." On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day "of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father." Here is the text of Lincoln’s proclamation:
By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation for Thanksgiving.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. 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. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, 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, tranquillity and Union.8
Lincoln issued a similar proclamation in 1864. U.S. presidents maintained the holiday on the last Thursday of November for 75 years (with the exception of Andrew Johnson designating the first Thursday in December as Thanksgiving Day 1865 and Ulysses Grant choosing the third Thursday for Thanksgiving Day 1869).
In 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday of the month (November 23rd) to be Thanksgiving Day. This break with tradition was prompted by requests from the National Retail Dry Goods Association. Since 1939 had five Thursdays in November, this would create a longer Christmas shopping season. While governors usually followed the president’s lead with state proclamations for the same day, on this year, twenty-three states observed Thanksgiving Day on November 23rd, the "Democratic" Thanksgiving. Twenty-three states celebrated on November 30th, Lincoln’s "Republican" Thanksgiving. Texas and Colorado declared both Thursdays to be holidays.
After two years of public outcry and confusion, Congress introduced the legislation to ensure that future presidential proclamations could not impact the scheduling of the holiday.They established Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November. The legislation took effect in 1942. Their plan to designate the fourth Thursday of the month allowed Thanksgiving Day to fall on the last Thursday five out of seven years.
Thanksgiving and Christians
There are those who want to remove any thought of God from our Thanksgiving celebrations. They wish to secularize the holiday and they reinvent history to attempt to prove their point. But it is evident from reading primary sources that Thanksgiving in America was always about giving thanks to God.
It is a Christian command and privilege to be grateful for the blessings of God (Deuteronomy 8:10; Psalm 107:19, 21; Colossians 1:12-14; Philippians 1:3). Our Thanksgiving celebration is a wonderful reminder to "give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever" (1 Chronicles 16:34).
The Rev. Benjamin Arnett was a prominent African American cleric in the Ohio AME Church. He preached a Thanksgiving sermon during the centennial of our nation on November 30, 1876. His sermon is a beautiful expression of gratitude to God for national blessings and a call to continue to pursue righteousness for ourselves and our nation (Proverbs 14:34):
Following the tracks of righteousness throughout the centuries and along the way of nations, we are prepared to recommend it to all and assert without a shadow of doubt, that ’Righteousness exalted a nation’; but on the other hand following the foot-prints of sin amid the ruins of Empires and remains of cities, we will say that ’sin is a reproach to any people.’ But we call on all American citizens to love their country, and look not on the sins of the past, but arming ourselves for the conflict of the future, girding ourselves in the habiliments of Righteousness, march forth with the courage of a Numidian lion and with the confidence of a Roman Gladiator, and meet the demands of the age, and satisfy the duties of the hour.
Let us be encouraged in our work, for we have found the moccasin track of Righteousness all along the shore of the stream of life, constantly advancing holding humanity with a firm hand. We have seen it ’through’ all the confusion of rising and falling States, of battle, siege and slaughter, of victory and defeat; through the varying fortunes and ultimate extinctions of Monarchies, Republics and Empires; through barbaric irruption and desolation, feudal isolation, spiritual supremacy, the heroic rush and conflict of the Cross and Crescent; amid the busy hum of industry, through the marts of trade and behind the gliding keels of commerce.
And in America, the battle-field of modern thought, we can trace the foot-prints of the one and the tracks of the other. So let us use all of our available forces, and especially our young men, and throw them into the conflict of the Right against the Wrong.
Then let the grand Centennial Thanksgiving song be heard and sung in every house of God; and in every home may thanksgiving sounds be heard, for our race has been emancipated, enfranchised and are now educating, and have the gospel preached to them!
1 Jean Craighead George, The First Thanksgiving, (New York: Philomel Books, 1993).
2 Of Plimoth Plantation by William Bradford, original manuscript, written 1647, (1901 Edition).
3 Jean Craighead George, The First Thanksgiving., (New York: Philomel Books, 1993).
4 Edward Winslow’s letter, written December 11, 1621.
5 Edward Winslow’s letter, written December 11, 1621.
6 William Bradford’s comments about the harvest from Of Plimoth Plantation by William Bradford.
7 Of Plimoth Plantation by William Bradford, original manuscript, written 1647, (1901 Edition).
8 The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler.
I. The key to a meaningful and Happy Thanksgiving comes from the willingness to give God thanks and others thanks.
a. In other words the ability to be thankful lies within the choice of the individual and the mindset of the individual.
i. Gratitude is nothing less than a key to happiness.
1. Dennis Prager, author of the shrewd and perceptive "Happiness is a Serious Problem."
a. He states: "There is a ’secret to happiness, and it is gratitude. All happy people are grateful, and ungrateful people cannot be happy. We tend to think that it is being unhappy that leads people to complain, but it is truer to say that it is complaining that leads to people to becoming unhappy. Become grateful and you will become a much happier person."
ii. This observation is so true. Have you ever met a person who is never happy? All they see is the bad rather than the good. They dwell on the negative rather than on the positive dimensions in life. The truth is there decision to complain and look for the bad ruins there whole demeanor.
1. As Christians this should not be. But this does help to explain why the Judeo-Christian tradition places such emphasis on thanking God.
a. The Bible stresses to us as a Christian that we must have grateful and thankful hearts to God and to others
iii. 92nd Psalm states, "It is good to give thanks to the Lord…"
1. Why? Because God deserves our attitude of gratitude?
2. We also need to choose to be thankful, whether to God or to other people, because this is the best vaccination against taking God blessings for granted.
3. The truth is the less you take for granted, the more pleasure and joy life will bring you.
a. Information above from "The Power of Giving Thanks by Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe Staff, 11/23/2000. http://www.homiliesbyemail.com/Special/
b. Gratitude is a necessary attitude if you truly want to experience a meaningful Thanks giving.
i. A few years ago Dr. Nick Stinnett of the University of Nebraska conducted a group of studies called the "Family Strengths Research Project": Stinnett and his researchers identified six qualities that make for strong families. The first quality and one of the most important to be found in strong families was the quality of appreciation. Families that are strong are strong in part, Dr. Stinnett concludes, because family members express to each other their appreciation for what the other members DO and for who they ARE.
ii. In a similar study another researcher looked into the effect of praise in the workplace. His study showed that the ratio of praise to criticism in the workplace needs to be four to one before employees feel that there is a balance - that there must be four times as much praise as there is criticism before they feel good about their work and about the environment they work in. That is pretty staggering information - information that tells us that if we want to do something good, that if we want to have a healthy family, a strong workplace, or any other effective group that we need to be sure that appreciation, praise, and thanksgiving are heard at least four times as often as is criticism.
iii. Information from: Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1998, 2001. "Gratitude - A Necessary Attitude"
T.S. – We must be willing to choose an attitude of gratitude if we really want to have a Happy Thanksgiving. True genuine heartfelt thankfulness never results in forgetfulness.
II. Hands on task: I honestly believe many of us need to make sure we have an attitude of gratitude this Thanksgiving.
a. We have designed a Thank You card that we would like you to fill out and to turn into the church office so we can put them on a Thank You bulletin to the Lord and to others.
b. I think we need to come up with some genuine prayers of thankfulness to God to say at our Thanksgiving meal.
1. Here are some ideas that others have come up with:
a. We give thanks to God for our turkey and dressing
for without Him there would be no blessing;
We give thanks to God for bringing our families together
for we are creating memories that will last forever;
We give thanks to God for the freedom to pray
for we know one day it could be taken away;
We give thanks to God that we will all be here next year
for celebrating the holiday with love and cheer.
Tressa Hilburn, 2001
God is great,
God is good,
Let us thank Him for this food.
Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you, God, for everything.
Joe Glassmire, 2001
Holy Father, We gather together to ask your blessing this Thanksgiving Day;
God bless America, land that I love;
You stand beside us in times of need, as of September 11, giving Peace and Love to all;
Stand beside her and guide her,
through the night with the Light from above;
Your handiworks are our home where warm loving hearts of family ties are brought together;
From the mountains, to the prairies,
to the ocean white with foam;
We raise our voices in praise to you through Christ our Lord.
God Bless America, my Home sweet Home.
Barbara Hawkey, 2001
God is Great
God is Good (My son)
Let us Thank Him for our Food (My daughter)
By his hand we are fed (me, Mom)
Thank you Lord for our daily bread (husband, aka Dad)
Amen (Everyone together and squeeze hands}
The Goodyear Family, 2001
Thank you for this Thanksgiving Day. Thank you for all the many many blessings you bestow on us each and everyday. Thank you for the little things we over look from day to day. Lord, I pray you feed the ones today less fortunate. Draw up real close to them and let them know how very precious you are. I pray Lord, for the ones who are down and out today. Lord, put your loving arms around them and draw them up close to you and show them your love. Thank you for each one around this table Lord, and thank you Lord for the ones who prepared this food. In your loving name.
Ann Graham, 2000