In 1621, the Plymouth Colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than centuries, days of Thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
One of George Washington’s early official acts was the first Thanksgiving Proclamation. I wish to share portions of that proclamation given on October 3, 1789 in New York City.
“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 the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed . . . and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions . . .”
As George Washington has done in his proclamation, Thanksgiving is a time for us to acknowledge all that God has done for us, as individuals, as a family, and as a nation. The Psalmist says, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name; make known among the nations what He has done. Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts.”
Thanksgiving highlights the home and family. It is one of the most traveled times of the year. Thousands of miles are traveled just to be home with family. There is just something special about being with family on Thanksgiving Day. As we gather around the dinner table, with our heads bowed, our love is shared with each other, and our thoughts turned upward to express our gratitude to God for His mercy and grace, His abundance in blessings, and His love revealed by the Cross of Christ. At this holiday, as at no other, we count our blessings and run out of time before we can exhaust the list. We can always find reasons to give thanks. The apostle Paul said, “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
May everyone have a happy, blessed, and safe Thanksgiving Day!