Thanksgiving in America

When we think of Thanksgiving, we all think of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims.  This might surprise you, but Thanksgiving is not about remembering the Pilgrims.  Thanksgiving is a day to thank God for the good things He has given us over the past year.  Why is Thanksgiving special?  People have been thanking God for things since Adam and Eve. Our yearly tradition is special for several reasons but there is one reason you probably don’t know about.

The holiday we know as Thanksgiving has only been around since 1863.  Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as a national day of thanks.  This is amazing and very special.  Why, you may wonder.  In 1863, America was in the middle of one of the worst wars in American history.  The north had lost nearly every battle to that point.  Hundreds of thousands of teenage boys had died in the war.  Just three months earlier, a single battle, Gettysburg, had claimed the lives of 60,000 young men.  If ever there was a time not to be thankful, it was then.  The war was being lost, everyone had lost people they loved in that miserable war, food was in short supply, and homelessness was a serious problem for millions as they were losing their homes to the war.

Yet in the midst of misery and sadness, Abraham Lincoln declared:

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the Source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God . . . No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, Who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

1863 was not our first Thanksgiving but it was the beginning of our yearly celebration.  It is interesting to see the circumstances surrounding these earlier Thanksgiving celebrations.  In 1621, the Pilgrims were getting ready to face their second winter, their first winter had brought them starvation, sickness, and death.  Of the 121 original passengers on the Mayflower, only 47 survived to see that first Thanksgiving.  These people could have been sad but they were Thankful for surviving and for the harvest, they had just made.

In 1777, in the midst of the American Revolution and facing what must have appeared to be certain defeat, Samuel Adams and Richard Henry Lee (signers of the Declaration of Independence), called for a day of Thanksgiving.  It is truly amazing and worth noticing that these three celebrations occurred in the face of negative circumstances.

There have been many happy thanksgivings in the history of our country but it is a lesson in strength and faith that in the face of great adversity you can always find something to be thankful for if you look at the positive things in life rather than always focusing on the negatives.

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
-Abraham Lincoln
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