From my observations, whenever pastors write a November Newsletter or for that matter anyone writes about Thanksgiving Day, they inevitably include at least three of the following six people in their musings, Governor Bradford (75%), President Washington (40%), Sarah Hale (30%), President Lincoln (65%), President Roosevelt (50%), and Charlie Brown (25%) and at least one or more passages from a Psalm (90%) or a passage from the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy (30%). They also tend to use them in that order. I have used all these historical figures except for Charlie Brown, these scriptural passages, and I have used them in that order. How unoriginal is that? Thanks, be to God for patient parishioners and Charlie Brown!
In this, the month of November, our nation celebrates Thanksgiving Day. This day of thanksgiving is not one of the holy days of the church but rather a national (American) day of thanksgiving. However, the giving of thanks unto the LORD is clearly called for by scripture;
Psalm 105:1-4 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. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. (NIV)
Thanksgiving Day here in the United States is an annual day of thanksgiving for the blessings of the past year. We observe Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday in November. It is an historical and national holiday that has religious roots that began with the Pilgrims. After the survival of their colony through the first winter (a very bitter one), and after the gathering of the harvest of 1621, the Pilgrims gathered together to celebrate and give thanks to God for his mercies. The first thanksgiving celebration lasted three days. During this feast, the Pilgrims and their Native American guests feasted on wild turkey and venison.
Three years after settling at Plymouth, Governor Bradford of Massachusetts made the following Thanksgiving Proclamation:
“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.
Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”
After this, the celebration of “days of thanksgiving” was observed sporadically and only a few eastern states participated. On Nov. 26, 1789, George Washington issued a proclamation of a nation-wide day of thanksgiving. He insisted that the day should be filled with prayer and thanksgiving to God. He called for all religious denominations to promote a spirit of common heritage.
Sarah J. Hale, however, is generally given credit for Thanksgiving being a holiday. As editor and founder of the Ladies’ Magazine (established 1828) in Boston, she published many editorials and wrote many letters to President Lincoln encouraging him to establish a national holiday of thanksgiving. Her efforts resulted in Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863, designating the last Thursday in November as our Thanksgiving Day.
“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved, the many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. 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, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to God that made us! It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.” (April 30, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation for a National Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer.)
This was continued until 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday of November (not the last Thursday). Congress adopted a joint resolution in 1941, setting the date on the fourth Thursday. Almost every American home celebrates Thanksgiving Day with roast turkey and pumpkin pie, serving as the dominant icons of this festival. The cornucopia (an ancient harvest symbol), or “horn of plenty,” has also been grafted into the Thanksgiving Day tradition. This day of family reunions is a national, rather than individual, day of giving thanks.
The struggle for much of our country is to be thankful for all that we have and to know to whom we are to be giving thanks. As Christians, we proclaim that it is to the Triune God.
Deuteronomy 8:11-14 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (NIV)
William Law, in Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life says,
“Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms, or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice, but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God willeth, who received everything as an instance of God’s goodness, and has a heart always ready to praise God for it.”
It is my hope that this month will bring you and your families many blessings and that your Thanksgiving Day will truly be one of joy and peace. It is also my hope that you will find new ways to share with others that are less fortunate than you what God has given to you. Remember to rejoice and give thanks to God for everything. Our brother Paul gave us the following instructions for our walk here on the earth:
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
Yours in Christ,
 Sula Benet, Hunter College