The ‘holiday’ season is upon us (officially at least; the stores have had decorations up before Halloween). What I always stop and wonder each year is not so much what we are to be thankful for, but to whom are we thankful? As a disciple of Jesus the Christ, I recognize that it is to God that my thanks go, not just on Thanksgiving, but every moment of every day. To the Jew, we are speaking of the same eternal Creator, who is in control no matter how scary the world may be right now. But what of others, particularly, what of the professing atheist?
To whom (or what) are they thankful for what they have. True, we are in a period of history where enemies abound (both to personal as well as national security), but who do they thank?
The first observance in this country goes back to the Puritans’ landing in Plymouth in 1621 as harvest, though in the case of the Puritans, it was more the anniversary date of their initial landing the year before, the harvest in that area occurring earlier in the year. The argument between Virginia, Plymouth and even two separate claims of earlier celebrations by Spanish explorers in the New World; 1598 in Texas and 1565 in Florida added to what was referred to as the “…marvelous nonsense…” surrounding that day.
George Washington, on November 26, 1789, proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving; "…as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God." From then until Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, Thanksgiving Day was celebrated at various times, depending on which state or area in which you lived. The final Thursday in November became the unofficial observance of this holiday, further made official when in 1863 President Lincoln made it so by official proclamation. This continued until December 26, 1941, when President Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national observance of Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday in November.
That this observance of a national Thanksgiving Day has a link to faith in God was observed by President Kennedy on November 5, 1963, when he stated;
"Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together, and for the faith which united them with their God."
So, that is a very abbreviated history of this day we call Thanksgiving Day, but the question remains; to whom or what are we thankful?