Thanksgiving…More than Food, Football & Friday Sales! … Hello Hump Day readers! If you’re like us, you are getting ready for a wonderful festive day tomorrow with lots if not too much food, family gatherings, football watching or playing together, Macy’s Parade, etc. Thanksgiving is truly a day for family and fun but sadly, a lot of it is not really about giving thanks, which was at the heart of the early settlers. Of course, they didn’t declare this day as a holiday right away, but what they started is something we need to remember and replicate in our Thanksgiving holiday.

One can find a LOT of history on Thanksgiving, some is folklore, others supposition, and some that is factual. I did some history-digging and thought you may enjoy a few nuggets of our Thanksgiving holiday. (Remember that we share with Canada as well in this holiday!)

First up is its beginning. Thanksgiving is commonly known as a way to commemorate the colonial Pilgrims’ 1621 harvest meal that they shared with Wampanoag Indians who “were key to the survival of the colonists during the first year they arrived in 1620.”

Besides the original meal shared in 1621, Pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving in 1623 to celebrate the end of a long drought. Additional feasts of giving thanks for various reasons were given in subsequent years as well. But—technically speaking—the 1st official, designated Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1789. According to the National Archives, Congress asked President George Washington for a National Day of Thanksgiving. Thursday, November 26, 1789 was therefore enacted. Washington made this declaration very clear in his words:

“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.’”
It took a century later, however, for President Lincoln to declare it a National Holiday on every 3rd Thursday of November. One can understand Lincoln’s permanence for this holiday as those times of Civil War had separated families, tore the fiber of our Union, and no doubt caused the Almighty God to cry over the hatred of his beloved children. Lincoln said, “in the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, the American people should take some time for gratitude.”

We would be remiss to dismiss the “action of faith” both of those presidents spoke of in their wise words—to specifically take ONE day to be thankful. Many men and women of faith in our history knew that one day was one but many of their days of gratitude and thanks, but how are we with all of this? Read this one-more historical change on Thanksgiving and you’ll connect with my question:

“In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt announced that Thanksgiving was going to be celebrated a week earlier so merchants would benefit from another excuse for shopping between Labor Day and Christmas. This caused much controversy throughout the next few years–splitting almost half the nation between the two dates. FDR reversed his decision in December of 1941, with an apology, and signed the resolution from Congress that declared Thanksgiving would go back to being celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November.”

Wow—a reversal of capitalism to gratitude—wise move.

I often think we’ve gone back to FDR’s move in the way we adopt this day of thankfulness. The intention is great, but our love for stuff has become greater. Rather than sharing how God’s provision for our lives is a blessing and how we can share that blessing with others, we hear more about Black Friday Sales, who won the football game, who had the best turkey without lumpy potatoes—you know what I mean! Gratitude is but a quick share and then dive into the food.

I’m not being trite, I love watching my family enjoy it all but I have to admit the deep “action of being thankful” that was at the heart of both Washington and Lincoln, doesn’t quite come to the foreground very well.

When shopping for our holiday meal this past week, I could hear and see the complaining about prices, the kids aren’t coming-again, hopes for good weather to put up the Christmas decorations—suffice it to say it wasn’t much about thankfulness but a lot about “I/Me” which is certainly a “virus” we all have in this blessed country.

No history of Thanksgiving would be complete without mention of the sharing of food and thanks to the Wampanoag peoples. Sadly, that “thanks” dissolved 14 years later when they wiped out 500+ of them in a horrible massacre because of the murder of a settler, which in the end turned out to be another settler and not one of the tribes. We know the rest of the story as we went West, and instead of being thankful for what we could have learned and shared with the Indigenous peoples who lived here long before us, the gratitude and thankfulness declared on that 1st Thanksgiving gave way to our thirst to conquer and for many, “get rid of these savage people.”

Every country has good and bad in its past—every country. Those who acknowledge it are less prone to repeat it. Perhaps this Thanksgiving we can give praise to those first Indians who kept the new settlers safe and shared how they lived off this ‘new land.’ Perhaps we can lay aside our bitter arguments on guns, politics, religion, racism, sexual preference, inflation, and maybe even family squabbles? (Yes, I do believe in miracles!)

I propose we say the prayer of both Washington and Lincoln, and bring the power of our forefathers’ faith to the table. Put the football on DVR—put the ads for Friday away—and look in the eyes of those around you. You are all adopted by a great God who holds all people in his heart and hand. Let’s celebrate that—we’re not orphans—we’re precious children of the Living God who has been blessed us beyond measure.

Is this not worth giving thanks on this special holiday—and every day? Let’s truly adopt an “attitude of gratitude” for every day. Now go check the turkey and the pie, just in case…

 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
-Psalm 107:1 [NRSV]