Traditionally, Thanksgiving traces its origins to a 1621 celebration in Plymouth colony. The colonists, having survived their initial hard days in the “the new world” and having reaped a bountiful first harvest, decided to hold a communal feast. This was their way of showing gratitude to God and acknowledging their dependence on God’s grace and provision.
The Thanksgiving holiday that we now celebrate has only been in existence since 1863, when then-president Abraham Lincoln declared the first modern Thanksgiving to fall on the last Thursday of November. Since then, this holiday has become one of the biggest celebrations of the year in the United States. It is a time for extended families to gather for good food and fellowship. For those who are football fans, it has also become inextricably linked with the exploits of our favorite gridiron teams.
You will not find many these days who do not list Thanksgiving as one of their favorite days of the year. I, personally, have always loved this festive and familyoriented holiday. As an ordained minister, I also inevitably view Thanksgiving through the lens of my faith. As a person of the Christian faith, I cannot help but feel that something has been lost in our modern celebrations of Thanksgiving. In its colonial origins, it seems clear that this day of feasting was strongly linked with issues of faith. The colonists were not just feasting, but they were expressing their gratitude to God, believing that it was by God’s grace and provision that they had survived their incredible journey to the new world.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the joy-filled festivities of our current Thanksgiving celebrations. As far as I’m concerned, any holiday that brings people and families together in this transient and divided world is a good thing. However, if Thanksgiving is to really live up to its name, we need to try to reclaim the “attitude of gratitude” that is at the roots of this holiday. It seems all too easy in today’s world to get caught up in a mindset of entitlement and obsessive selfpreservation. We get so focused on looking to our own individual interests, believing that we deserve all that we have and more. We begin to lose sight of the many blessings in our lives: those things, events and people that touch our hearts, bring us joy, and help us grow. We pay too much attention to the negatives and not enough attention to the positives.
At its best, Thanksgiving is a day on which we are reminded of our blessings. We are reminded that we human beings depend on each other and that we ultimately depend on the grace and provision of a higher power. We are reminded that we can all be thankful. If we’re really paying attention, even in the most challenging of times and circumstances, we all have much for which to give thanks.
Every faith tradition with which I am familiar acknowledges the importance of gratitude. My own faith tradition leads me to believe that one of the most important prayers I can offer is to simply say, “Thank you, God.” Whatever your faith, I hope that you will take the time during this Thanksgiving holiday to truly give thanks for the blessings of your life. You should be warned, though: As you begin to really “count your blessings,” you will find it more difficult to complain about things!