The True Reason for Thanksgiving
Over time, myths and distortions have arisen, twisting the reason for Thanksgiving Day. For starters, the Pilgrims did not hold their harvest festival to thank the local Indians. Unfortunately, this myth is often perpetuated in schools and textbooks. Many children and adults now believe we celebrate the help given to the Pilgrims by Native Americans. If the Pilgrims were to visit this Thanksgiving, they would be shocked.
The Pilgrims focused on thanking and praising God for His love, for all that He had done for them, and for the freedom they enjoyed in the New World.
A glimpse into the history of Thanksgiving Day gives a greater appreciation of this great American holiday. Even earlier than the Pilgrims, people of faith set aside days for prayer and thanksgiving to God. Many times rather than a feast, they were a time dedicated to prayer.
It may come as a surprise to some that the word holiday is actually from old English compound word combining holy and day. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines holiday as “a day set aside for special religious observance.”
The ancient Hebrews had many days set apart to worship, praise and thank God. Passover and Succoth are holy days of gratitude to God for His loving-kindness and deliverance from Egypt.
Early Americans often held days of thanksgiving in the various states and commonwealths. Washington and Madison each proclaimed a day of thanksgiving while president.
In October 1789, President George Washington signed a proclamation requested by Congress “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 form a government for their safety and happiness.”
Washington then assigned the twenty-sixth day of November “to be devoted by the people… 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;” and to “all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country…”
It was to remember, Washington said, God’s “manifold mercies” and providence, “for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed,” and, “in general, for all the great and various favors” He gave them.
In the dark days of the Civil War in 1863, Lincoln proclaimed, by Act of Congress, an annual National Day of Thanksgiving following a letter campaign promoting the idea by Sarah Hale. As a mother, widowed at the age of 34, Hale was the editor of the first woman’s magazine in America and campaigned for over 40 years to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.
Lincoln’s words are especially timely now with our soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, “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 land, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November…as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
He recommends that we “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers” from the war and to look at the many blessings we have been given by God including “which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come… Almighty God...”
“…But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagine, by the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessing were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own...”
In conclusion, Lincoln says, “It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people…”
Even amongst the pain, upheaval and difficulties of the Civil War, the nation came together for a day of thanksgiving and praise.
Sadly, someone erroneously wrote in Wikipedia, “Thanksgiving Day is … a time to give thanks for the harvest and express gratitude in general…While perhaps religious in origin, Thanksgiving is now primarily identified as a secular holiday.” Maybe this is true for some Americans, but certainly not for all. And definitely not the way the “Mother of the American Thanksgiving,” Sarah Hale visualized it.
Hale wrote, “Let this day…be the grand Thanksgiving Holiday of our nation, when the noise and tumult of worldliness may be exchanged for the laugh of happy children, the glad greeting of family reunion, and the humble gratitude of the Christian heart.”
And Edward Martin wisely reminds us, "Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow."
The idea of an eco-friendly and sustainable Thanksgiving is another liberal plot to suck the joy out of life. Read more...