I hope you had a terrific Thanksgiving day! I hope there was food and family and friends and football. In addition to all of that, I hope there was rest and relaxation and a lifting of the weight of external expectations.
It is one of my favorite holidays for all of the reasons above. Kind of a mini-vacation both physically and mentally, it is for me a day when my mind and body can catch up just a little.
I’m also mindful of the stated purpose of the day: to give thanks to God for his blessings on America.
Like the 4th of July this is a distinctly American holiday, though people around the world know about it. Once upon a time I learned that in a most delightful way.
Thanksgiving in England
It was the middle of November when my wife and her mother and I traveled to England together.
Some of you may look at that askance and wonder at the grouping, but in fact the three of us were great travel companions. I actually met the woman who would become my mother-in-law before I met the woman who would become my wife, but that is a story for another time.
One of hers was with a hotelier she knew in London, and he suggested a day trip for us all. He had a friend in the industry who was a chef. This chef and his wife had purchased a small, rustic inn on the Thames River. It was called The Beetle & Wedge, and I learned that this beetle was a kind of hammer used to drive a wedge for the splitting of wood.
Only years later did I learn that the Inn had made an appearance in several books, including The Wind In The Willows and Three Men In A Boat.
The day of our day trip was, in America, Thanksgiving Day. The owner/chef, anticipating our visit and the American holiday, had gone out and shot a pheasant and prepared it for our Thanksgiving meal!
Every Thanksgiving since I have remembered that extraordinary day.
Thanksgiving in America, 1863
It was in October of 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed “the last Thursday of November next” as the first national day of Thanksgiving. Here are some parts of the proclamation.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.
(Lincoln then says this is all happening “in the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity,” but that America is at peace with all other nations and there is still much to be thankful for.)
Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore….
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
Thanksgiving in America, 2023
And so here we are, 160 years later, still “solemnly, reverently and gratefully” acknowledging the gracious gifts of “the Most High God.”
Of course I smiled when I read the part of the proclamation where President Lincoln invited “my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also… those who are sojourning in foreign lands” to observe this day. I had not been aware of that wording on our Thanksgiving in England.
Today the population of the United States is about ten times what it was in 1863: from 34,000,000 then to about 340,000,000 now.
We are still fighting each other ideologically, but we are no longer in a civil war.
Most importantly, perhaps, many in America and many more around the world recognize this truth: America is the beneficiary of God’s gracious gifts and mercy.
Even Lincoln noted that we have so many “bounties” here that we are “prone to forget the source from which they come.” If that was true in 1863, then you know it is true today.
And so we have a day set aside to help us remember that which we are prone to forget. That the blessings we enjoy as a nation are a gift from God, and our thanks should be first and foremost to him.
Perhaps you did that yesterday — I know that millions of prayers of thanks were offered on Thanksgiving Day in America, 2023.
But just in case you missed it, remember this: it is never too late to say Thank You.
Be thankful to the Giver — it is a marvelous way to do good!