We once again pause to reflect and offer thanks as a nation as we celebrate Thanksgiving. Such observance is as uniquely American as our republic, or as O. Henry once expressed, “There is one day that is ours. Thanksgiving Day is the one day that is purely American.”
But to understand Thanksgiving, beyond the stories and traditions we all know so well, we must first understand giving thanks.
You see, there must be a recipient of our appreciation, someone to whom we express our gratitude, for without such acknowledgment of the author of our blessings we cannot properly express thanks as we are called to do in our hearts and around the family table this day.
As I pondered that thought, I felt it necessary to reread America’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation penned by George Washington, to understand the correct context of this day as purposed by our nation’s founders.
Washington, in October 1789, wrote:
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
“and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.”
Washington understood that America, then and now, owed its very existence to the Almighty, that through his Divine will and plan we as a people came to be. It is to Him – America’s true Author – that we give thanks.
Yet, today – some 223 years later – many in these United States would like nothing more than to erase such notions, choosing instead to express their thanks in generalities, with no defined recipient of their gratitude other than the government.
Our Founders clearly understood that America’s greatness and blessings do not come from government; such mechanisms of man are merely a means of service. Rather, the promise and opportunity that this great land holds is dependent upon God’s mercy and grace. It is only through His dispensation that we were founded and thus exist to this day.
So as you reflect on your blessings, lift your eyes to Heaven, taking heed of Washington’s words, thanking the Lord for the unbounded favor He has shown our nation despite our continual transgressions. His hand of mercy and promise has truly blessed these United States.
(Washington’s Proclamation courtesy of Library of Congress)