Pastors  Joe's Blog

History of Thanksgiving

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, let us remember in the midst of our festivities who God is and all of His blessing that have come to us in Christ. The blessing of His salvation, His provision, and His continual love for us. “Let us give thanks to the Lord for He is good and His love endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1)


What makes Thanksgiving an amazing American Holiday is its origin, which was a call to the first citizens of Plymouth Colony to give thanks to God. Governor Bradford in 1623, issued an edict to meet and “listen to their pastor and render thanksgiving to Almighty God for all His blessings.”


George Washington instituted the holiday through congress in 1779 as a “public thanksgiving and prayer” where he wrote that it is to be “acknowledged with grateful hearts for the many favors of Almighty God.” His proclamation specifically gave thanks for God allowing a peaceful form of government for America’s safety and happiness.

Abraham Lincoln issued a further proclamation in 1863, specifically guiding us to celebrate it on the last Thursday of November. In Lincoln’s proclamation, he guided our nation to recognize that whatever blessings that have been received didn’t come from “human counsel,” but are “the gracious gifts of the Most High God.”


It wasn’t until 1943 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt that Thanksgiving actually became a law through congress, guiding our nation to give thanks to God on the fourth Thursday of November each year as a national holiday. What makes each of these Thanksgiving proclamations unusual? When we look at history, I think what makes these calls to give thanks to God amazing is that each of them were issued during a time of great loss and suffering.


The Pilgrims celebrated after burying half their colony the first year after they arrived in Plymouth. George Washington made it towards the end of the Revolutionary war, after many lost sons and had their properties decimated by the British forces. Lincoln issued it in the middle of the Civil War when the nation faced hundreds of thousands of casualties and the prospect of being destroyed. In 1943, President Roosevelt and congress called our nation to Thanksgiving during the worst of WWII.


Why does it take loss and war and difficulty for us to raise our eyes to heaven and give thanks to God? I think one of the primary reasons is that it is in the midst of loss and suffering that we remember what is truly valuable and lasting and worth cherishing.


Perhaps we can learn something from Job, who after losing his children, his property, and his health, said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed by the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)


As we celebrate Thanksgiving this coming Thursday, may we remember that God is with us no matter what we face. Let us also remember that “everything good and perfect has come from above, from the Father of lights.” (James 1:16) Let us learn to give thanks even in the midst of loss and difficulty, for “He is good and that His love endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1)