This Thanksgiving, amid turkey and Thanksgiving dinner banter with your relatives, let’s take time around the table (or Zoom!) to come before the Lord with thanksgiving and praise. Contrary to all the blaring ads, Thanksgiving is not just about pumpkin pie and amazing sales the next day.
At least, that’s not why the pilgrims had a feast, and that’s not why George Washington and Abraham Lincoln declared a day of Thanksgiving.
The pilgrims feasted for three days in 1621 with the Indians, attributing their plentiful harvest to the goodness of God. Years later, George Washington likewise designated a time to be thankful for God’s goodness.
Washington declared Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a national day of thanks in a Proclamation, saying the day should be devoted 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.” He gave many reasons for the nation to be thankful:
- God gave them the opportunity to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness
- They were able to peaceably and rationally establish the Constitution of the United States of America
- God gave kind care and protection to the People of this Country, and His Providence provided a good conclusion to the American War for Independence.
- The nation has tranquility, union, and plenty
- The nation is blessed with civil and religious liberty
- The people have means of acquiring and spreading useful knowledge
- God gives the nation many great and various things
What did Washington think should be done on this day of thanks? He called for the nation to unite in rendering God sincere and humble thanks. He even said that it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God and have grateful hearts toward Him. Some celebrated this day by giving to the poor (as Washington himself did) and having church services.
However, this is 2020 now. In a year of pandemic, murder hornets, toilet paper shortages, broken relationships, political strife, injustice, lost livelihoods, and lost lives, how can we even think about being thankful? The nation doesn’t seem to have tranquility, union, and plenty right now as in George Washington’s time. Does that mean we should ignore Thanksgiving this year?
Not so fast. Presidents did not just declare a day of Thanksgiving when everything in the nation was going well. Abraham Lincoln also made a Proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1863—when the nation was in the “midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity”—and his proclamation led to Thanksgiving being regularly celebrated each year.
Even during such a difficult time, Lincoln recognized there were still blessings from God to be thankful for. He pointed out that the nation still possessed gracious gifts and said such gifts came from “the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
His Proclamation said that we are prone to forget that the source of our blessings is the Almighty God. Our blessings “should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People” on a day set apart for “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father.”
The day should also be a day to ask God for forgiveness for the sins of the nation and a day to care for widows, orphans, mourners, and those suffering from civil strife, according to Lincoln. He called for people to spend Thanksgiving asking the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation.
Today, our nation is also full of strife, but it’s also full of blessings and gifts from God. Perhaps we should spend the day the way that Washington and Lincoln suggested: thanking God while simultaneously acknowledging the hurt. As we praise God, we can also petition Him to “heal the wounds of the nation” and “to restore it…to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
Despite partisan fights, despite hardships, despite it being the year of 2020, can we come together with one voice and heart on Thanksgiving to thank God? This Thanksgiving, let’s pray for healing for this nation while also expressing thanks to our good Father in Heaven.