Thanksgiving beats congratulations every time
Thanksgiving Day is by far my favorite holiday. There is something altogether good about it. It is uniquely American and, if we do it right, inescapably God-acknowledging. Two events define the American Thanksgiving tradition. The first, of course, is that great three-day feast of thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation in 1621. We moderns can deconstruct and revise the story all we want, but the fact of the matter is that those who were there remembered it as a time to offer thanks to God after a hard and bitter year: “Although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want,” wrote Edward Winslow. Governor John Bradford is the other who recorded his memories of the time. (Click here to read to the two eye witness accounts of the feast.)
The second key event that defines what has become the American Thanksgiving Day tradition is Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863. Americans have observed a day of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November each year since 1863.* 1863 was the year of Gettysburg and Vicksburg and the beginning of the turning of the tide in the Civil War, yet still a year of great loss and mourning. But Lincoln saw God at work even in the midst of hardship. Contemplating the events of the year, he wrote, “they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”
Lincoln’s notion of thanksgiving was not light. In recommending a day to give thanks,he urged his fellow citizens to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” (Click here for the complete text of Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation.)
1621 was a hard and bitter year for the Pilgrims of Plymouth. 1863 was a year of loss and mourning for many Americans, north and south. As those years drew to a close, the governor of the colony and the president of the country called their people to give thanks to God for his goodness and providence. We have much to learn from them.
Giving thanks is a amazing act of letting go. We let go of our control and calculations. In giving thanks we declare that it is not us but someone else who is in control and it is by that other’s calculations that we measure our lives and our lot. Abraham Lincoln and John Bradford knew well who that other is. He is Almighty God.
In an era obsessed with self-esteem and feeling good about ourselves, we tend to congratulate. We congratulate our kids for showing up at school or the soccer field, actions that surely earn a designation as student of the month, we think. But mostly we self-congratulate for all we have and have done (and conversely we self-despair when jobs are lost or we can’t have whatever it is we think we have to have). In a world of congratulations, self and otherwise, our lives are all about us, our accomplishments and our stuff.
Lives marked by the giving of thanks (to God in all circumstances as the Apostle writes –click here), are lives that finally become all about God and all about the others in our lives to whom we give love and care in God’s name.
Please, make your “I’m thankful for” list this week. And remember to add “thankful to” before you’re done.
Just one more click here: click here.
*In fact, Thanksgiving Day from 1863 until 1939 was observed on the last Thursday in November; usually the fourth Thursday, but occasionally the fifth Thursday (as it would have been in 1939). In order to provide a boost to the Depression economy by adding a few more days to the Christmas shopping season, Thanksgiving Day was moved to the fourth Thursday in November where it has been ever since.