Today many Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving. While some may describe this day as just an “annual harvest festival,” Thanksgiving was originally set up as a reminder to Christians that we should thank God for His many blessings. This tradition is widely recognized in the United States as beginning with the Pilgrims and Native Americans at Plymouth in 1621. Following a deadly first winter in the “ New World,” the Pilgrims had a good harvest, and they celebrated with a harvest festival, thanking God for His blessings. On December 11, 1621, Edward Winslow wrote the following description of the festival (which has been modernized):
Our corn did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown, they came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom.
Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after have a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.1
Although the original Thanksgiving was basically a harvest festival and not yet an official holiday, Edward Winslow clearly gave glory to God and attributed the blessings to Him. Thanksgiving was made a national event when President George Washington made the following proclamation on October 3, 1789:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God …
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 ….
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 ….2
President Washington recognized the need to praise God for His many blessings given to us and set up a national reminder to everyone that we should give thanks to God. In an attempt to minimize or remove Christianity’s influences on this nation, some have declared that President Washington was a deist (someone who believes in a god who does not interfere with the affairs of mankind), but from reading his proclamation it is clear that he was not a deist.
Moreover, many educational resources and institutions neglect to mention the strong Christian origins of this national holiday. For America to return to its Christian roots, individuals must once again recognize God as the Provider. Along with thanking God, you can also use this holiday to share your testimony with unbelievers and tell what God has done in your life. Show them the real reason to give thanks—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving Day is a good reminder of a biblical principle and a great opportunity for evangelism. No matter what nationality you may be, God’s Word states that we should give “thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” ( Ephesians 5:20).
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