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The True Story of Thanksgiving

On the fourth Thursday of this month citizens of the United States will celebrate the much-beloved holiday of Thanksgiving.  It’s supposed to be an occasion for grateful reflection upon how blessed we are as a people, but how many American Christians, let alone Americans in general, understand the true origin and meaning of this annual day on the calendar?

The majority of Americans, which likely includes a large number of Christians, may well think the origin of the celebration of Thanksgiving is all about the first pilgrims to the New World (later to be named America) celebrating that they had arrived safely here.  While that may be a worthy reason, it’s not the real the story.

Had it not been for the grace of God providing help for them through the gracious contributions of the indigenous people living around them they all might have died.  As it was, a sizable number of their small community had died from illness anyway during that difficult first winter.

Therefore, after harvesting a bountiful crop of various produce and getting better established in their new homeland during the next year, the pilgrims felt especially grateful to God for their survival.  Because they were all very devout Christians, setting aside a feast day to thank God for His goodness was a natural expression of their gratitude.  However, it would be 168 years later on November 26, 1789, before George Washington proclaimed it as a national day of observance for the new nation.

President Lincoln made it an annual observance beginning on the last Thursday of November in 1863, but to support retailers by extending the shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, President Franklin Roosevelt changed the annual date to the fourth Thursday in November in 1939, and it has remained unchanged from that date since then.

In America’s politically correct educational environment today where anything even hinting at Christian influence in America’s past or present is eschewed by the anti-Christian establishment, precious few people (including Christians) have even the slightest idea of America’s Christian heritage.

In fact, the day may come in the not-too-distant future when writing or hosting these facts may be forbidden and even dangerous.  So-called “hate speech” laws have already been enacted around the world in parts of Europe, Canada and even America prohibiting critical speech against certain groups such as homosexuals and Muslims which may be labeled as hate speech.  Unfortunately, the definition of “hate” by these laws is so ambiguous that anything negative may be identified as hateful, thus putting Bible-believing Christians, in particular, in a very precarious position.

Simply quoting the Bible’s statements against homosexuality or pointing out the moral and theological inconsistencies of Islam with Biblical Christianity (such as loving your enemies and rejecting both murder and vengeance) can bring on the wrath of either of these constituencies or their various sympathizers. It appears that it’s socially sanctioned for anyone in either of these groups to blaspheme God or Jesus’ saving work or to spew hate-filled epithets at Bible-believing Christians, but it’s not allowed for Christians to espouse their strong beliefs in the Bible as God’s final Word on anything.

Maybe we American Christians had better be especially thankful to God for our dearly-held freedoms of speech and religion as we observe this year’s Thanksgiving Day, since we have no real assurance that we will still have these same freedoms in the future.

What about you?  What do you have to be thankful for, and have you taken the opportunity to thank God both in prayer and in an open pronouncement to others for His goodness to you?

Expressing gratitude is very important to God, as we can learn from a careful reading of His holy Word. One  excellent example is the story of Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers which prompted the thankful response from the apparently lone Samaritan in the group (see Luke 17:11-19).  To quote another of Jesus’ statements in another  context – “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37 NKJV).

Happy Thanksgiving!




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