One of the first recorded Thanksgiving Day observances in North America was held in Newfoundland in 1578 by Sir Martin Frobisher of the Frobisher Expedition to find the Northwest Passage. Another early thanksgiving observance was led by Captain John Woodlief on December 4, 1619, who instructed that the day of his ship’s arrival “be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to almighty God.”
The best known Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in Plymouth Colony in 1621 by the Pilgrims and Native Americans, in a feast that lasted three days. When President George Washington proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day on November 26, 1789, it was already an established custom. It has been an annual tradition since 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” It is now the custom of the United States to celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November.
Thanksgiving Day is one of the oldest and most truly American of our national holidays. It is unique because it has probably changed less in its intention and manner of celebration than any other holiday. Thanksgiving is still very much what the Pilgrims made it, a time of giving thanks to God. Thanksgiving Day is truly a national holy-day.
But, really, everyday should be a day of thanksgiving. We have a multitude of reasons to have an “attitude of gratitude.” Thankful for what others have done for us. Thankful for the blessings of life. Thankful to God for life itself. And we could go on and on naming things we can be thankful for. This is why Psalm 136:1 says, “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good,” and Psalm 50:14 says, “Offer unto God thanksgiving.” The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything [in every situation] give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
It is said that God has two dwellings, one in Heaven, and the other in a thankful heart. Cicero called gratitude “the mother of virtues.” I don’t know of a word that warms and encourages a heart more than the word “thanks.”
“Thanks” is a word we probably don’t hear or say often enough. Husbands and wives don’t say it enough to each other. Parents don’t hear it enough from their kids. Kids don’t hear it enough from parents. We probably don’t extend our thanks enough to our co-workers.
Someone said, “If we can’t be satisfied with what we have received, then at least we should be thankful for what we have escaped.”
Or you may want to look at it like this: “Compare what you want with what you have and you’ll be unhappy. Compare what you deserve with what you have and you’ll be happy.”
I am told that in the old English, the word “thankfulness” suggests “thinkfulness.” And the more we think about it, the more we realize we have to be thankful for. It is fitting that with bowed heads and reverent hearts we should thank the Lord for His blessings.
This Thanksgiving Day, as we sit down to turkey and dressing, rolls, gravy, pumpkin or pecan pie, let’s take time to put our hands together and express our thanks to God. Matter of fact, let’s do this everyday. As George Herbert prayed, “Our Father, thou hast given us so much. Do please give us one more thing, a grateful heart.”
Ken Thornton is pastor at First Baptist Church of Pine Bluff.
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