What Thanksgiving is really about
Both the United States and Canada celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Though observed on different dates, in both countries it is an official day of national thanksgiving. I am unaware if any other countries observe such a day, one that is not tied to a specific event or faith. It is remarkable that the citizens of both countries are legally encouraged to give thanks. Are they encouraged to give thanks to the State? No, in both countries, thanksgiving is directed to God for the blessings they enjoy.
Thanksgiving is a hallmark peculiar to the Judeo/Christian heritage and faiths. The Psalmist composed a song to the tune of “Lilies,” whatever that tune might be, extolling thanksgiving. “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs.” (Psalm 69: 30-31) Apparently, thanksgiving to God in the old covenant preceded in priority the offering of sacrifices, making it the core of their religious practice, rather than a bribe to idiosyncratic pagan gods. The importance of thanksgiving in the lives of Christians is confirmed in the new covenant as evidenced in the teaching, “. . . in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God.”
While living in other cultures and parts of the world, I was impressed with the vital place thanksgiving occupied in most believers’ spontaneous prayers. “Merci, Seigneur” in French and “Shokran al-messia” in Arabic, both meaning “Thank you, Lord,” were among the first words of Christian vocabulary I learned.
Image: The First Thanksgiving by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris. Public domain.
Some of the subjects of thanksgiving resembled what one would hear in this country. Others differed. I still remember with a smile the earnest prayer of a young Tunisian girl who thanked God for the season of hot peppers! To a very poor girl, the seasoning of hot peppers might be one of her few delights. I’m sure God was as pleased with Dhalal’s subject of thanksgiving as He would be with an American child thanking Him for a new bicycle or a week at camp.
I grew up in an inner-city Presbyterian church and was taught to memorize the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The very first question posed is, “What is the chief end of man?” To this day, I have not forgotten the response, which is: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
Now, as an adult, the Psalmist reminds me that a major means of glorifying God is with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving affords us the opportunity verbally and determinately to acknowledge that all we are and have we owe to God.
Referring to the American people, Calvin Coolidge said: “We have been a most favored people. We ought to be a most grateful people. We have been a most blessed people. We ought to be a most thankful people.”
American Christians need no outside reminder or special day set aside by the government to do what should be a normal, daily practice; but perhaps we can help others recognize the One Who is responsible for all the mercies, goodness, and blessings they experience and enjoy.
We are richly blessed both spiritually and materially. Most of us have in abundance what we need. We can worship openly and freely, not clandestinely as believers in North Africa or other parts of the world must. This year the month of November holds two important days, Election Day and Thanksgiving Day. Let us once again elect to “glorify him with thanksgiving.”