When comparing our current economic prosperity with that of the pilgrims and other colonists who suffered so much (think Roanoke and Jamestown) in the early days of the American experiment, the contrast is stark. What we call the First Thanksgiving was really just a harvest festival that was commonly celebrated in many parts of the world. When crops were harvested in the fall, it meant no one would starve to death during the winter . . . something for which thanks should be given. Today, though, most of us don’t even know where our food originates, and we have so much of it in our kitchens that we could probably last the winter without restocking.
In this sense, we have come a long way. We don’t have harvest celebrations anymore because we don’t have to worry about starving in the winter. Our economic prosperity has dwarfed what any other nation has ever seen throughout human history. This is a very good thing. Economic prosperity is a wonderful blessing for which we ought to be grateful.
In another sense, though, we have fallen so far. Thanksgiving has been celebrated off and on since the colonial days, with presidents issuing proclamations most years that it should be celebrated until Congress made it law in 1941. To see just how far we have fallen, look at what President Washington says in his proclamation in 1789.
“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 . . . 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 . . . 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” (Thanksgiving Proclamation, 3 October 1789).
Who today agrees with Washington, that it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of God and to obey his will? Far from this, we don’t even recognize that nations have the right to acknowledge God and obey his will. In fact, we actively promote the opposite. Our government now defends its people’s “right” to ignore God and disobey his will. My, how far we have fallen!
Thanksgiving is still a holiday during which people give thanks, but the focus has gone from giving thanks to God to giving thanks for blessings. It’s a subtle shift that ultimately flaunts our society’s rejection of the Almighty by focussing on what we have rather than the God who has given it to us. So, this Thanksgiving, I encourage you to give thanks to God for the blessings he has bestowed and to take Washington’s advise and offer “prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.”