The first American Thanksgiving was celebrated less than a year after the pilgrims had settled in the new land. They made the long journey to the new continent of America primarily to worship God as their conscience dictated and to build themselves homes, to educate their children in the traditions of the motherland. They decided that in the entire world, America was the one place which offered them these opportunities.
The first dreadful winter in Plymouth, Massachusetts killed nearly half the colony. But new hope grew in the summer of 1621. The corn harvest brought rejoicing. In October, Governor William Bradford decreed that a three-day feast be held.
The first Thanksgiving Day, set aside for the special purpose of prayer as well as celebration, was decreed by Governor Bradford for July 30, 1623. In 1783, President George Washington proclaimed the first Thanksgiving Day for all Americans. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November a national holiday.
The Thanksgiving celebration is an American tradition, but its roots are deep within the Bible. The Hebrews observed a thanksgiving holiday called The Feast of Tabernacle or the Sukkot. This feast was a reminder of God’s protection and care of the Israelites during their sojourn in the Sinai desert on their way to the Promised Land. It is still an annual Jewish celebration.
In the same spirit, the pilgrims observed their first Thanksgiving by counting their blessings and expressing their gratitude to the all-loving and ever-caring God.
Today, God’s blessings are so numerous and vital to our existence that we cannot afford to take any of them for granted. We must always be grateful to our Creator and Sustainer.
The blessings around us are often subtle. They are so common and so bountiful we tend to take them for granted. Did you have a bowl of cereal this morning? A few years ago, The Associated Press released a study done by an agricultural school in Iowa. Tomorrow morning when you eat your Cheerios, consider what God puts into one acre of grain: one million pounds of water, 6,800 pounds of oxygen, 5,200 pounds of carbon, 162 pounds of nitrogen, 125 pounds of potassium, 75 pounds of yellow sulfur, 50 pounds of magnesium, 50 pounds of calcium, 40 pounds of phosphorus and two pounds of iron. That’s 4,012,504 pounds of chemicals that we cannot produce, not to mention rain and sunshine at the right time.
The Iowa report went on to estimate that only five-percent of the produce of a farm can be attributed to human effort. Yet we eat our cereal without giving it a second thought.
The Thanksgiving celebration is a reminder of our dependence on the graciousness of God. And our expression of gratitude should be a spontaneous gesture in response to undeserved good fortune. Indeed, gratitude is one of life’s special graces which enrich human life.
During his ministry here on earth, Jesus healed ten men afflicted with leprosy. He told them to go and show themselves to the priests. That was a requirement of the Jewish law. A recovered leper had to be examined by a priest before he could return to society. These ten men went to show themselves to the priests. Along the way, they were healed. Only one of them took the time and made the effort to say “Thank you.” The other nine did not. And Jesus wondered why. “Were not all ten made whole? Where are the other nine?” He asked.
Jesus was troubled by the fact that only one of the ten lepers he had healed returned to express his gratitude. His concern had nothing to do with wanting to be praised. He worried the other nine would take their healing for granted rather than receive it as a gift. To be physically healthy is always a blessing. But it is a far greater blessing to those who are grateful for it.
Young people may take good health for granted. They are still blessed but unaware. Their good fortune may rarely enter their minds. Old folks, on the other hand, may be happy because they can walk to the corner and back. No longer bedridden, they can now get out of bed and out of the house. And for that their hearts overflow with gladness. They are richer because they know it.
Gratitude is important to people because it enriches their lives. Indeed, no human being can ever be truly blessed without it.
Just as we need to show appreciation to God for His blessings, so too we need to show our thanks to God’s messengers in our lives: family, friends, and acquaintances, even strangers who touch our lives every day. Too often these gifts also are passed over. We notice them for the moment, but we walk away without ever letting them know what they mean to us.
One Thanksgiving Day, William Stidger of the School of Theology in Boston found himself thinking about the blessings that had come to him in life. He remembered a woman who had taught him in school, but whom he hadn’t heard from in many years. He remembered how she had instilled a love of verse in him, and because of her, Stidger has loved verse all his life. So he wrote the woman a note of thanks. And this was the reply he received:
“My dear Willie, I cannot tell you how much your note meant to me. I am in my eighties, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely and, like the last leaf of autumn, lingering behind.
You will be interested to know that I taught school for 50 years and yours is the first note of appreciation I ever received. It came on a blue-cold morning and cheered me as nothing has in many years.”
You see what we miss when we don’t express our thanks! By acknowledging the blessings others bring into our lives, we can bring blessings into their lives as well!
Have a blessed Thanksgiving.