What Does Thanksgiving Day Mean to You?
This year, on November 28, many Americans will congregate with relatives and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. If you are the average U.S. citizen, you will enjoy a lavish dinner on this public holiday—a sumptuous smorgasbord of fruits and vegetables, roasted turkey, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce and other delectable trimmings. Chances are you will enjoy this fabulous meal with a bevy of friends and family members in a warm, cozy home equipped with many modern conveniences. You may even watch a football game on your large plasma-screen tv.
If you are an average American, you have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day. But how thankful are you? Do you truly appreciate the veritable cornucopia of blessings that have been bestowed on this land?
Thanksgiving Day in History
It is commonly agreed that the first Thanksgiving Day in the United States was established by American colonists in 1621. That December, in gratitude for the ending of a particularly grueling year and for a bountiful fall harvest, Pilgrim settlers held a special thanksgiving festival near Plymouth, Massachusetts. The settlers gratefully praised God, thanking Him for this new land. They thanked Providence that they were still alive and for the food they had to eat. Every indication is that these people knew they were being given unique opportunities, blessings and responsibilities.
The thanksgiving festival soon became a popular holiday among the New England states. During the succeeding decades, several of the original 13 colonies adopted annual thanksgiving days. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Thanksgiving Day traditionally represented “a day of religious observance, set apart to give thanks for the blessings of the past year, as well as an occasion for family reunions, bountiful dinners and festivities in the home” (1954 edition).
In 1789, U.S. President George Washington declared a national day of thanksgiving in honor of the new Constitution. But it wasn’t until the Civil War that the American peoples decided to observe Thanksgiving Day as a public holiday. Ever since President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation, the nation has officially celebrated an annual Thanksgiving Day in November.
A Land of Milk and Honey
Throughout the 19th century, the United States’ wealth and influence grew at an unprecedented rate. There was ever more to be thankful for. The masses of the world began looking to America as the new land of hope and opportunity. And to this day, people from many countries yearn to share in the overflowing “horn of plenty.” Thousands of legal immigrants stream across America’s prosperous borders annually (not to mention the thousands that enter the country illegally each year).
In its heyday, America owned roughly half of all the world’s riches. There is no doubt the U.S. still enjoys the highest standard of living of any major industrial country today. Truly we Americans live in a land that is overflowing with abundance.
Considering what the average person in this country possesses, nearly everyone else in the world (and especially citizens of developing nations) would say we live in the lap of luxury. After all, the average American home is over 2,400 square feet, 2½ times the size of the average 1950 home. The median family annual income in the U.S. is almost $50,000. Even with rising domestic food and gasoline costs, we still pay less for commodities than many other countries.
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has enjoyed the status of the world’s number-one superpower.
Indeed, American citizens have much to be grateful for. As a whole, we have been blessed with the highest standard of living of any people in the history of mankind.
It is evident that some Higher Power has blessed this country tremendously, and commissioned it to fulfill a great purpose—to be a model nation.
But today America is a house divided. It seems we have no national goal.
A few years ago, a tv news reporter asked several leading Americans a question to this effect: “Now that the Cold War is over, what should we do as a nation now that we’re number one?” The responses were startling. One man’s response amounted to, “We ought to simply sit back and relax.” Another passively explained, “I don’t think we should do anything about it—we like things the way they are.”
With this attitude, Americans have buried our heritage. We have recklessly squandered our fabulous resources and polluted our beautiful land. Historians are now speculating on whether the tenure of the U.S. as the only superpower in the world will not also be one of the briefest in history.
Times have certainly changed since that first Thanksgiving. Along with our rise to prosperity, public ingratitude has increased—especially in the past few decades. Most people are too busy and too concerned with selfish interests to take the time to thank God.
Think about it: The modern Thanksgiving Day holiday is typically filled with football games and other forms of entertainment, excessive drinking and gluttony. Thousands of people travel the highways, rails and skies in a frenetic clamber to “have a good time.” The entire day is filled with the emphasis on self-gratification. At some time in the 24-hour period, some manage to stop and say “grace” over a meal. But how many express heartfelt thanks to their Creator God?
Let’s face it: Our careless, godless, decadent lifestyle has stripped the value and meaning from Thanksgiving Day. We are, generally, an ungrateful people.
As a nation today, we are in serious trouble. Overall, we’re affluent, our bellies are full, and we don’t care! We seem to have forgotten it is God who is our Provider. And so, soon He will withdraw His blessings from us—so says the Holy Bible.
America has a rich history with God and the Bible. Our forefathers believed and taught that religion and morality are paramount to the success of a nation of free peoples. But what about our leaders today—do they honestly feel we are still “one nation under God”? Are they concerned with religion and morality? Are they grateful for what Providence has given them—or have they become unthankful, callous and arrogant in their thinking?
Let’s be honest: It seems many believe that we the people—apart from any Higher Power—have built this powerful and wealthy republic. Many take for granted the luxuries that nearly everyone in this country enjoys. We have, in many ways, come to expect what most people in other countries only dream of!
Over 1,900 years ago, the Apostle Paul warned of this pervasive attitude of ingratitude: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful …” (2 Timothy 3:1-2).
Through the inspired pen of Moses, God admonishes America (and every nation): “Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied …. And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day. And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the Lord thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish” (Deuteronomy 8:11-13, 17-19).
That is a sobering warning. But there is good news: If we would individually thank God, and remember it is He who gives us all good things—and obey Him—He would gladly shower His abundant blessings upon us. God says He desires to lavish us with prosperity (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). But He cannot tolerate disobedient, rebellious, ungrateful attitudes.
Our Creator is a great God of mercy. Just like a physical father doesn’t like having to discipline his children, neither does God want to punish us. He doesn’t want to see anyone perish. “[T]urn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” He asks (Ezekiel 33:11; see also 18:31).
How much thanksgiving we give to God could very well be an indicator or measurement of the degree to which God will spare and protect us from future punishments! Think about that.
Count Your Blessings
Thanksgiving is not just for Americans and should not be limited to one day a year. It should be a daily occurrence for all men. God expects it when we pray to Him each day: “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name” (Psalm 100:4).
We cannot afford to neglect to give our Maker grateful thanks. After all, we owe Him everything! Therefore we ought to regularly stop and count the blessings Almighty God has given us, and then sincerely thank Him for them.
It is God’s will that we thank Him for all things (Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Why? Because He is generous and full of love—and He wants to eventually develop that same character in all men. He knows that naturally we are not thankful. We have to consciously develop the habit of being appreciative.
Thankfulness is beneficial because it gets our minds off self—off greed, lust and vanity. Therefore, in order to help us overcome our evil human nature, God has commanded that we be thankful. When we are genuinely thankful, our focus is automatically on God who provides us with all good things.
The first thing we should do when we awake on the morning of Thanksgiving Day (and every morning) is kneel and give thanks to God for our many blessings.
We often take for granted our innumerable blessings and tend to overlook them. How grateful are you to have a roof over your head? Do you give God thanks each day for the shelter and clothing you have—and acknowledge that He has provided all your basic needs? How about praying a prayer of thanksgiving for your spouse and your children? Are you thankful for your income—whether you are gainfully employed or living off a pension? Do you give thanks for your good health? Even if you don’t have perfect health, do you rejoice in your sufferings? (1 Peter 4:13). Do you thank God for the very breath of life that you breathe?
Do you give thanks for the physical food you eat? The Bible shows we should. Jesus did. He set an example for us, giving thanks for what He ate—and asking God to bless it.
How about the spiritual “food” you ingest when you read God’s Word? Think about this. How many times have you stopped to give thanks for the Holy Bible—the foundation of all knowledge and the primary text which deceived men, down through the ages, have vehemently attempted to malign and even destroy? Where would we be without the preserved Word of God?
God wants His people to offer Him the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” (Psalm 116:17). Now, as never before, we need to stop and tell God how much we truly appreciate the many blessings we have.
How to Make Thanksgiving Meaningful
“There is nothing necessarily wrong with good food, family reunions and football games on Thanksgiving Day. But all too many use these activities wrongly and forget the purpose for the holiday. Many glut themselves with far more food than they ought to eat; few, however, stop to give God thanks for this food—even on Thanksgiving Day. Family reunions all too often turn out to be family brawls. … Millions of others push and shove one another in large crowds at football games and parades, and kill one another on the highway as they madly strive to make sure they get their fair quota of pleasure. And where is the giving of thanks in all this? In the overwhelming vast majority of the cases, it is nowhere to be found! What a travesty!” (Plain Truth, November 1969).
As we observe Thanksgiving Day this year, let us take stock and consider the sheer magnificence of our national blessings. Stop and reflect on why we have so much. Remember our rich national history, and those who fought to preserve this great land. Meditate on where America is going—and understand why it will be punished by a merciful God: because its citizens refuse to repent of their evil, lawless and ungrateful ways. (Perhaps no other piece of literature will help you do this more than our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy. If you have not yet received your copy, request or download it right away. We also recommend Character in Crisis.)
Let us always give heartfelt thanks to our great Creator for the manifold blessings He has so generously bestowed upon these United States of America—and put the “thanks” back into Thanksgiving Day this year!