Thanksgiving is coming—that time of year when Americans get to join together with family to eat food and express their thankfulness for the things they’ve been given.
But where did Thanksgiving truly come from? Most of us date the holiday back to the pilgrims, who held the first American autumn feast in thanksgiving for a good harvest. However, the tradition wasn’t set in stone until much later, in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln officially declared the last Thursday of each November to be Thanksgiving Day and a national holiday. And it was seven more years after that before all the states began to observe it.
The bigger question, though, is about the meaning behind Thanksgiving. Although most Americans do spend the day in thankfulness (and sometimes the whole month, as one can see from the “30 Days of Thankfulness” posts on Facebook), many of us—even Christians!—don’t stop to think much about to whom we’re giving thanks. We have a general attitude of gratefulness, but not necessarily a subject toward which we direct our thanks.
In 1789, President George Washington made it abundantly clear whom we’re thanking. Although Thanksgiving hadn’t yet been established as a yearly national holiday, Washington issued a proclamation that began like this:
“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 …’”
At the very beginning of the proclamation, Washington points out the One who should receive all the glory for any of the blessings and favor we receive—Almighty God. The President wanted to remind the people that God was the One behind the establishment of our nation, and that He deserves the credit for all the good happening in our lives. He goes on to say:
“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 tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed …”
What a wonderful and rich history Thanksgiving has! Sadly, most of us in the United States know little about this aspect of Thanksgiving due to the increasing effort to remove God from every part of any national holiday or observance
The good news is that our families can easily keep the true recipient of our thanksgiving at the forefront of our minds each year. Here are a few ideas on how to do this with your kids.
• Spend some time in prayer as a family before you dig in to Thanksgiving dinner. Go around the table and allow each person to personally thank God for something in their lives.
• Read Washington’s proclamation to your kids, and then talk through it. Why did Washington recommend that people set aside a day for thanksgiving? Who did Washington give the credit to for the nation’s blessings? What are some of the ways God has blessed our nation? (You can read the full proclamation here.)
• Allow everyone to draw the name of another family member out of a hat. Give each person time while you eat Thanksgiving dinner to think of the unique gifts and talents God has given his or her chosen family member. After dinner is over, everyone can start out the time of thankfulness by saying “I’d like to thank God for ______, because …”
• Have a popcorn-style time of thanksgiving. Mom or dad can say, “Let’s thank God for …” and each person can call out a thought as it comes to him or her. Encourage everyone to think not only of material possessions, but also specific times of individual or family blessings throughout the year.
When we remember who deserves our gratitude at Thanksgiving and make a point to thank Him throughout the day, it makes the day even more rich and special!
Rebekah Largent is a mom, a wife, and a writer/editor. After many years in the children's curriculum industry, she switched over to Internet ministry at Got Questions Ministries as a writer and editor. In addition to editing and writing articles for GotQuestions.org, she also manages the GQKidz.org website.
Photo by Piero Sierra (www.flickr.com).