Given that what the Pilgrims put into motion 400 years ago remains the last best hope on earth, a shining city on a hill, we should be thankful everyday for this nation.
Rather than feast on a smorgasbord of anti-American revisionism that paints every element of our history as evil, or to just glide breezily through it as day off from work to eat a lot and watch parades and football, we should take a moment to look at the historical facts for why we have Thanksgiving Day. It’s not to launch the Christmas shopping onslaught.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the way many of us “celebrate” Thanksgiving today would leave the originators and greatest proponents of Thanksgiving — from the Pilgrims to George Washington to Abraham Lincoln — aghast and dismayed.
They all saw Thanksgiving as a time to pause and reflect in gratefulness for what was given by God. They had gone through starvation and wars, and they were giving thanks to their Creator. We live in a time of unparalleled luxury and ease — but actually giving thanks for any of it seems an ancillary reason for Thanksgiving.
Something is amiss. We need to be more than thankful for blessings, we need to be thankful to the Giver of those blessings.
Consider this natural thought progression: If we give thanks, there must be a recipient to whom we are giving thanks. We are literally giving something. Without there being a recipient of that gift, thankfulness seems an ultimately empty gesture. Thankful to an empty, uncaring, purposeless universe?
For the majority of Americans still, the thanks that is offered, is offered up to God — specifically the Biblical God. While considerably lessened, that continues from early in our history for Thanksgiving. For those who do not think Thanksgiving is a heavily Christian concept, let’s go to the national origins of Thanksgiving Day.
We start at America’s beginning of Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims. After the fall crops were gathered in November 1623, Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Plantation colony proclaimed: “All ye Pilgrims with your wives and little ones, do gather at the Meeting House, on the hill…there to listen to the pastor, and render Thanksgiving to the Almighty God for all His blessings.”
By the time of the Revolutionary War, not much had changed in the spiritual culture of the colonies and the young nation, nor did it in the early decades that followed. In fact, Congress proclaimed National Days of Thanksgiving to Almighty God many times throughout the following years.
On November 1, 1777, Congress created the first National Thanksgiving Proclamation:
“…for solemn thanksgiving and praise. That with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor;… and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them (their manifold sins) out of remembrance… That it may please Him… to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety under His nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth of ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost’…”
After the war and the early bumpy creation of the young United States, President George Washington wrote his famous National Thanksgiving Proclamation on January 1, 1795. Here’s the key element:
“…our duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God, and to implore Him to continue is…our duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God, and to implore Him to continue and confirm the blessings we experienced…”
In the midst of the terrible Civil War 68 years later, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, in accordance with Congress on October 3, 1863, an annual National Day of Thanksgiving “on the last Thursday of November, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
The proclamation included:
“…announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord… 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 imagined, by the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own… 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…”
Lincoln’s establishment of the final Thursday in November remains today.
Don’t let the revisionists fool you. But also don’t forget actual thankfulness. Let’s remember to give thanks to the One who gives all good things, and to fight by all peaceable means to protect this amazing legacy.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in The Revolutionary Act.