Do you know the purpose of Thanksgiving? The tradition of Thanksgiving is a time to focus on God and thank Him for His blessings. This tradition dates back almost four centuries in America! It is from the Pilgrims that we get our current tradition of a Thanksgiving that includes prayers to God and a meal with family and friends.
As children, we are told the story of the Pilgrims at Thanksgiving.They arrived in America in December 1620 and experienced a harsh winter of extreme hunger and starvation in which half of them died! The following summer, the Pilgrims reaped a bountiful harvest. Pilgrim Edward Winslow affirmed, “God be praised, we had a good increase of corn and by the goodness of God, we are far from want.”
The grateful Pilgrims then declared a three-day feast in December 1621 to thank God and to celebrate with their friends. Ninety Wampanoag Indians joined the fifty Pilgrims for three days of food and prayer. (Some of the food included shellfish, lobsters, turkey, corn bread, berries, and deer.) This celebration was America’s first Thanksgiving festival. It was the origin of the holiday that Americans now celebrate each November.
The first national Thanksgiving was proclaimed in 1789 by President George Washington. After President Washington, national Thanksgiving proclamations were sporadic. By 1815, state governments had issued no less than 1,400 official prayer proclamations, almost half of which were for days of thanksgiving and prayer.
Then, in the first half of the nineteenth century, Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale began to lobby for a national Day of Thanksgiving. For nearly three decades, she contacted president after president until Abraham Lincoln responded in 1863 by setting aside the last Thursday of that November.
Over the next seventy-five years, presidents faithfully followed Lincoln’s precedent, annually declaring a national Thanksgiving Day, but the date of the celebrations varied widely. In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt celebrated Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November and maintained that date year by year throughout his presidency. In 1941, Congress permanently established the fourth Thursday in November as the national Thanksgiving holiday.
So, what is the purpose of Thanksgiving? To thank God for His blessings! Have you thanked God today? In John 6, Jesus thanked our Heavenly Father when he ate food. Not even Jesus, the son of God took food for granted! We don’t have to wait for a holiday to thank God. We can thank Him every day!
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