Fresh baked pumpkin pie. Corn on the cob. Sweet potatoes. Green beans. Golden brown turkey. What a feast! Thanksgiving is just around the corner!
How did this wonderful tradition begin?
The Biblical Basis of Thanksgiving
President Abraham Lincoln officially declared the last Thursday in November to be a national holiday for the purpose of giving thanks to God. Thanksgiving remains one of the most popular family traditions in the United States.
The Pilgrims Gave Thanks
Nearly 400 years ago (long before Lincoln’s 1863 declaration), devout Christians established the “feast of thanksgiving.” This hardy band of English settlers invited Native Americans from the region to join them in Plymouth for several days of feasting and celebration. Why?
These Pilgrims wanted to thank God for helping them survive the first brutal winter in New England and for granting them a bountiful food crop during the summer. The initial Thanksgiving feast lasted three days and was attended by the remaining 53 pilgrims and 90 Native Americans. The feast consisted of fowl, venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash.
Governor William Bradford wrote: “Thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, and to bless their outgoings and incomings, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity…” Of Plymouth Plantation
The New Nation Gave Thanks
President George Washington made the following Thanksgiving Day proclamation (October 3, 1789):
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “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 signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do 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, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, 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, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.”
The War-torn Nation Gave Thanks
President Abraham Lincoln, while America was enmeshed in a great Civil War, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day in 1863:
“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 … 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 …”
The Reason for Giving Thanks
The underlying motive that prompted the Pilgrims to celebrate Thanksgiving comes from the Scriptures. These new Americans realized that their situation was very similar to that of the Hebrew nation whom God had delivered from slavery. Moses spoke to the people: “Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field” (Exodus 23:16).
The Apostle Paul commends the Church to follow a similar model: “…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).
4 Creative Thanksgiving Activities:
1. Tell a Story
Children love stories. Take advantage of their natural interest by telling a story (perhaps about a Thanksgiving from your childhood) that will reinforce the importance of showing genuine gratitude. Stories of God’s faithfulness (and your thankfulness) can encourage kids to do the same!
2. Act it Out
Read about the plight of ten lepers who came to Jesus (Luke 17:11-19). Reinforce to the children that Christ praised the one person who returned to thank Him.
3. Make a “Blessing Basket”
Place a pencil and pad of paper inside a fall basket. Encourage kids to jot down ways God has blessed them. Younger children can draw or cut pictures from magazines. Read these blessings aloud and thank God together.
4. Count Your Blessings
Adopt this tradition suggested by Dr. James Dobson. Place several kernels of corn at each plate. At the start of the meal, drop the kernels in a basket as you each give thanks for God’s goodness in the previous year—one word of thanksgiving for each kernel. Candy corn works well for this, too!
May God shower you and your family with His richest blessings this Thanksgiving!