Thanksgiving day was celebrated all over the US this week. It is a time when families come together, a classic turkey-based meal is served and people remember their past. What are the origins of thanksgiving?

‘Thanksgiving has been celebrated nationally on and off since 1789, after a proclamation by George Washington. It has been celebrated as a federal holiday every year since 1863, when, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”, to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.’ (Wikipedia)

Let us consider for a moment what the word thanksgiving means. The New Oxford American Dictionary describes the word as ‘an expression of gratitude especially to God’. The word implies that you are grateful to someone who has provided you with something, which you would not have otherwise had and which you generally cannot pay back. You don’t offer thanksgiving after paying for your purchases at the store as is the case in most dealings with fellow-men. However, when we talk of what God has done for you, to pay back adequately is impossible and hence thanksgiving becomes a natural response. In the Psalmist’s words,

3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. 5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalms 100)

Notice how thanksgiving is accompanied by a recognition of our origin- created by God, a recognition of our purpose- to worship God and a recognition of our strength- his faithfulness.

Man has a way of suitably forgetting history and altering festivals to reflect his current philosophy- and the current philosophy is one where God has been put away. And so in today’s thanksgiving, references to God are conspicuously absent. We are reminded to be grateful- but grateful to whom or what? In today’s thought process, we solemnly feel grateful- to nobody in particular, for the things we have; nothing could be more meaningless! When God is taken out of the picture, it is no longer thanksgiving but a vanity borne out of what you possess and have accomplished. The Bible defines it as pride. Take the example of Nebuchadnezzar.

30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.” (Daniel 4).

A smug satisfaction over what he had created led to his downfall. But even Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who presided over arguably the richest empire in history, came around to acknowledge the living God and was restored back to his former glory. Modern-day man however fails to do so.

Yes, we do need thanksgiving day- for modern-day families that no longer speak to each other, to come together at least once a year; to control the population of turkeys that do not have a natural predator; to keep the Black Friday retailers in business and yes, also to feel noble by taking a moment to be ‘grateful’- to nobody in particular. Happy turkey day!

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