November 22, 2002
Why We Have Thanksgiving
by Donald G. Mashburn

As we approach Thanksgiving Day, we should ask ourselves why we set aside a day to be thankful. And think of all we have to be thankful for.

Sure, it’s an official holiday. We get off work. The time we get to spend with family makes the day special. But why are we thankful, and to whom do we give thanks?

In the Old Testament, the Children of Israel gave thanks in peace offerings, and were commanded to give thanksgiving to God. Their offerings were from their harvests and the increase of their flocks and herds.

And in America, the idea of offering thanksgiving to God existed from the earliest times. At Jamestown, the colonists, after a hard winter they called “the starving time,” set aside a time of thanksgiving.

Their original colony of 409 had been reduced to 60 survivors, who prayed to God for help. Their prayers were answered with a ship from England, carrying food and other supplies. The colonists then held a prayer service giving thanks to God for their blessings.

Today, we take for granted an abundance that early colonists could never imagine. First, we have the freedom they came to the New World seeking, although we often take it for granted.

Additionally, here we pledge allegiance to a nation that provides “liberty and justice for all.” We breathe free air. We worship in freedom, although there are those who try to discredit Christians and Christianity.

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued his famous Thanksgiving Proclamation. The proclamation acknowledged “the ever-watchful providence of almighty God,” and, “the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.” Lincoln called them “the gracious gifts of the most high God.”

We are indeed blessed with “fruitful fields.” No nation produces so much food for other nations. No nation eats so well – too well, some may argue. On Thanksgiving Day, as our “patriotic duty,” we’ll join the heroic assault on roast turkey, dressing – which must be cornbread dressing to be really “American – and pumpkin pie, and assorted trimmings.

Essentially all the good stuff will be native to America, including the cranberries, one of only three fruits, which are native to North America – the blueberry and Concord grape are the other two. Beyond the Thanksgiving feast, we can enjoy virtually every important food product known, so innovative and productive our agriculture has become.

Our thanks should cover more than freedom and food. We should thank God we can travel and move about freely. We can choose our mode of travel, restricted only by our ability to pay the fare. Serious travel restrictions come only when we travel to other countries.

We can be thankful for a free press – not always unbiased, but nonetheless free to publish or broadcast their version of the truth. But because we can think for ourselves, we can sort out the good sources – like this newspaper – and take the others with a grain of salt. In the case of the television networks and the New York Times, you might need a sack of salt.

Abe Lincoln acknowledged the “the gracious gifts of the most high God.” And we would be most ungrateful if on this Thanksgiving Day we did not acknowledge what a blessed people we are, and thank God for all of our blessings.

We should thank Him for America, on which He “shed His grace.” Nowhere else do people have so much to be thankful for. For so much freedom, for so much in creature comforts and conveniences. And we always should be thankful for the grace God has extended to those who believe on His Son, Jesus Christ.

Why do we have Thanksgiving? Obviously not to stuff ourselves, watch football, or pursue other pleasures offered by an unthankful world.

The history of Thanksgiving days, prayers and proclamations shows clearly that the “Why” of Thanksgiving Day is to praise the “Holy God” of the 1676 proclamation issued by the Charleston, Mass., governing council.

We can and should be thankful for all our of earthly blessings: family, freedom, food and the “stuff” of life But we shouldn’t neglect giving thanks to the “Most high God” and “Beneficent God” of Heaven of Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation.