Thanksgiving Day —a day of family gatherings to give thanks for our many blessings—has evolved into a day of turkey, football and shopping. A lust for stuff is a stark contradiction to the origins of Thanksgiving. Abraham Lincoln once noted that the costly war had “not arrested the plow, the shuttle or the ship,” that “the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements and the mines…have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.” These “great things” were clearly “gracious gifts of the Most High God,” and should be “solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged” in a “Day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” Lincoln asked that people pray also that the Almighty “heal the wounds of the nation and restore it…to the full enjoyment of peace…” Thanksgiving was not a day for shopping or football, but for giving thanks for our blessings and praying for peace and unity. It was only with the abolition of slavery that Thanksgiving finally became a holiday that was celebrated across the nation.
In the Bible, the meaning of thanksgiving reflected adoration, sacrifice, praise, or an offering. Thanksgiving was a grateful language to God as an act of worship. Rarely, if ever, was thanksgiving extended to any person or thing, except God.
“These things I remember as I pour out my soul; how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng” (Psalm 42:4).
Long before the colonists celebrated their successes, Nehemiah assembled two great choirs to give thanks for God’s faithfulness in rebuilding the wall.
“…the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully and dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres” (Nehemiah 12:27).
The true meaning of Thanksgiving focuses upon relationship. Thanksgiving is a relationship between God and man. Upon their arrival at New Plymouth, the Pilgrims composed The Mayflower Compact, which honored God. Thanksgiving begins with acknowledging God as faithful, earnestly giving Him thanks, in advance, for His abundant blessings.
“…In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Thanksgiving is an attitude of the heart that reinforces an intimate relationship with God.
Thanksgiving should be a holiday in which we, as individuals, focus on our past, our present circumstances, and future endeavors and give thanks. It should be a day to slow down for a few hours, join hands with our family and friends, and truly reflect on how blessed many of us are. There is so much in this beautiful world to be thankful for, and the least we can do is take a moment to realize that on a day that is supposedly dedicated for giving thanks. You can still go shopping, watch your football team, go for a second serving of turkey and potatoes and tell stories about the “first” Thanksgiving. These are all very enjoyable things. But just remember that it shouldn’t be about what other people make it out to be. Thanksgiving is what you make it about, and if you think of the holiday in its namesake only, the proper notion should be clearly evident.