Today, we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, a celebration with a long and deep history in our country and in the colonies that preceded our country.  As a people, we have regularly participated in thanksgiving feasts since the first feast in 1621, a harvest feast at which Native Americans were honored guests.  This first Thanksgiving feast “lasted three days, and it was attended by 90 Native Americans (as accounted by attendee Edward Winslow) and 53 Pilgrims.”  The purpose of this feast was to celebrate the good harvest, give thanks to the God who made it possible, and to socialize with their Native American friends who were God’s instruments of assistance, teaching the Pilgrims many of their successful native farming techniques that ensured their survival and even success.  There were other celebrations of thanksgiving prior to this celebration, but they were primarily religious services which did not include the feast which has become a traditional and essential feature of our Thanksgiving celebration in the United States.

While we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of every November, our Canadian neighbors to the north celebrate their Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October.  We are not, however, the only two nations to celebrate such a holiday of feast and thanksgiving.  Many nations around the world have such holidays each year, so it is likely a universal experience or event.

The concept behind Thanksgiving ceremony celebration, held with a massive zeal in every nook and corner of U.S., is similar to the August Moon Festival in China, Tet Trung Thu in Vietnam, Succoth in Jew, Kwanzaa in Africa, Pongal in India and Chusok in Korea. The list is endless. The only difference in the festivals is date, rituals and customs but the reason behind it remains the same, to thank God for a huge fruitful harvest.

Although we now celebrate Thanksgiving annually, it has only been since 1863 that the holiday was a regular, annual event.  That national day of Thanksgiving was instituted by Abraham Lincoln beginning in November 1863.  He established this holiday in a proclamation signed October 3, 1863. From Wikipedia we learn: “In the middle of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863.”

Before that date, states would celebrate various thanksgiving days in their state, but only a few New England states had an annual Thanksgiving Day, which they had been celebrating since the 17th century.  Over time, having such a holiday to celebrate and give thanks to God became more popular and more regularly observed by citizens of the colonies and, later, the states.  Wikipedia tells us that:  “Later in the 18th century, individual colonies would periodically designate a day of thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, an adoption of a state constitution or an exceptionally bountiful crop. Such a Thanksgiving Day celebration was held in December 1777 by the colonies nationwide, commemorating the surrender of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga.”

During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress would designate various days of thanksgiving and prayer.  From the Library of Congress website, we learn that:  “National days of thanksgiving and of "humiliation, fasting, and prayer" were proclaimed by Congress at least twice a year throughout the war. Congress was guided by "covenant theology," a Reformation doctrine especially dear to New England Puritans, which held that God bound himself in an agreement with a nation and its people. This agreement stipulated that they "should be prosperous or afflicted, according as their general Obedience or Disobedience thereto appears." Wars and revolutions were, accordingly, considered afflictions, as divine punishments for sin, from which a nation could rescue itself by repentance and reformation.”

Such days of thanksgiving and prayer were, thus, considered not just a “nice thing to do” but rather as an essential event to maintain the type of national character that would result in our success and happiness due to our being a God-ly people. 

In the same Library of Congress article, we also learn:  “The first national government of the United States was convinced that the ‘public prosperity’ of a society depended on the vitality of its religion. Nothing less than a ‘spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of our citizens,’ Congress declared to the American people, would ‘make us a holy, that so we may be a happy people.’"

This syntactic construction of that last phrase may befuddle most people since it uses an obsolete structure, but the bottom line is, such events of thanksgiving and recognition of God’s hand of providence were deemed necessary by our early national leaders in order to remind us to be the type people with whom God would be pleased and who would regularly do the right thing or at least attempt to when they realize their flaw or error.  The result of our good character and behavior would, therefore, be blessings from God, and adversely, less than good or honorable character and behavior would result in God’s hand of blessing and protection being lifted from us, our families, our communities, our possessions, our health, our wealth, our daily endeavors, our nation as a whole, etc.  Virtually no area of our life will be untouched when God blesses us and virtually no area will be untouched with misfortune when we do walk in a way that is displeasing to Him.  We can certainly see the truth of this when afflictions have come upon our nation due to national sin. There are those who say that our current spate of natural disasters are God’s warning to us before He is required to get really serious and allow or cause widespread, heartbreaking tragedy to befall us just as He allowed Judah and Israel to fall for their sins and just as He has so judged many nations throughout history for their widespread sin.

 So it is good to remember on this Thanksgiving Day that we owe all of our multitudinous blessings to our loving, generous, kind, gentle, patient, and compassionate God, but His patience has a limit, not because He is limited but because He does not want to see us waste the inheritance we have been given as we gradually lapse into moral and social decay, with all the fibers of our national institutions becoming unraveled.  But even if He were not concerned about us as a loving Father, He certainly has the right to declare how we should live since He created us and gave us life, and He has the right to say how we should use the resources of this world and this universe since He created it and gave it to us for our responsible stewardship.   

More on this tomorrow.


May God bless you and keep you this Thanksgiving Day.

 


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    I'm a retired soldier, having spent 23 years of my life serving our country, actually 30 years when you count the reserve and National Guard time as well.  I believe in servant leaders, following the example of our Lord, and I believe in giving back to the troops once one has attained a certain status or level of success in life.  But I also believe in fighting back against corruption and incompetence wherever you find it if it hurts people.  Our national values were worth dying for.  They are also worth living for.  A man or woman can actually live a life by these principles of humility, service, love, duty, and honor, and have a significant impact on the world around them...if you have the dedication to see it through. 

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