How should Christians in the U.S. view Thanksgiving?
Nearly 400 years old, the tradition of Thanksgiving in the United States directed people to God to offer thanksgiving for His goodness, protection, and provision.
The pilgrim settlers held the first Thanksgiving in December of 1621, which was their second winter in Massachusetts. Their celebration was decidedly Christian. Though they started with 102 colonists, the first winter saw 44 of them die. At one point, the colonists had only enough food rations for five kernels of corn per person, but they were resupplied unexpectedly by a trading ship and the summer's crop brought hope. They also gave thanks for God's guidance to a place with cleared land, friendly natives, and for Squanto, who served them as an interpreter and guide. The three-day feast was attended by the colonists and about 80 natives, who brought wild turkeys and venison to the feast. The festivities included feasting, games, prayers, sermons, and praise songs.
Different days have served as official days of thanks in U.S. history. Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November 1863 "as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father." In 1941, Congress made the fourth Thursday of November the legal holiday called Thanksgiving Day.
Giving thanks to God (as well as demonstrating our gratitude to others) is certainly something we should do. We see thanksgiving throughout the Bible. For example, 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 says, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
The Israelites had specific days set aside for thanksgiving. In the New Testament, giving of thanks saturates the writings of Paul and Peter and the Gospel writers. God's goodness, regardless of our circumstances, is consistent. We are to give thanks.
On a national Thanksgiving Day, we have a choice as Christians. We can focus on non-substantive things such as football, important things such as family, or eternal things such as faith. We can complain about the things that go wrong in our festivities or focus on the many reasons we can be grateful. All good things come from God (James 1:17). The best thing that comes from God is eternal salvation through His Son Jesus (John 1:12; 3:16; Romans 6:23; 10:9; Ephesians 2:8–9). If we belong to Him, we know that even those things that do not appear good to us can be redeemed by God for His glory and our ultimate good (Romans 8:28). God deserves our thanks always. As Christians, our focus on Thanksgiving should be God and His goodness.
As we enjoy the pleasures and fun of the Thanksgiving traditions, let's be sure to remember to thank God for His eternal gifts as well as for the joy He gives us here on earth.
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