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In the United States, Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln made a Thanksgiving Day proclamation. He asked citizens to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise.” The Civil War was going on at that time. Various colonies had set aside special days of thanksgiving long before, so this was not a new concept. Most of us have heard about the Pilgrim Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, with the Wampanoag people in 1621. But it was not until 1941 that Congress finally designated the fourth Thursday in November as “Thanksgiving Day,” thus creating a federal holiday.
Our belief system affects how we observe and participate in the holiday. As America has become more prosperous, and as science and technology have made our lives more comfortable, we have bought into the idea that we are the sole controllers of what we have and what we will have in the future. “Survival of the fittest” has led to a mindset that we must be the fittest in every area of life. Some religions have adopted this guiding principle to justify the extermination of those who are not part of their faith. Genocide, abortion, euthanasia, racism, and abuse of all kinds are rooted in the mindset that survival of the fittest produces.
Historically, God has always encouraged his children to view thanksgiving as essential. In Leviticus 22:29, God told the Israelites to participate in a sacrifice of thanksgiving. This sacrifice was vital for them to be accepted by God. Jesus Christ, in Matthew 5 – 7, turned the notion of survival of the fittest upside down. In those three chapters, he gave statement after statement about behaviors and beliefs that did not promote the individual's survival, but submission and promotion of others. In Ephesians 5:4, Paul takes all of the loose talk, crudeness, and covetous behaviors and says, “instead let there be thanksgiving.”
“Black Friday” is a good indicator of what has happened in America. Some people sit outside a discount store in the rain all day Thursday and Thursday night to get a bargain on Friday for something they really do not need.
So what is the benefit of thanksgiving, and I do not mean just the holiday? Thanksgiving is something we need to live daily and weekly. A person who looks at the stars and planets and looks at living things and looks at family should feel a sense of thanksgiving. When we look in the mirror, we must reflect on how blessed we are to be alive. We can be thankful that we can think and see and feel and smell and hear. With thanksgiving, we are not looking to see how we can subdue someone else or get what someone else has. Thankful people are at peace within themselves.
When Jesus calls us to live at peace with everyone, to turn the other cheek, to give to others, to show mercy and gratitude to others, he calls us to the real, meaningful things in life. None of us likes to be involved in stress, fighting, bickering, or war. But as long as “survival of the fittest” is our key to living, those destructive drives will be part of our makeup. They jeopardize our health, our relationships, and our joy at being alive.
A key to joyous living is to have an attitude of gratitude. Thanksgiving should be a daily, hourly activity. Pause to give thanks every time you eat. Spend some time looking at your family and those around you, and thank God for them. Be thankful that God, through Jesus Christ, has made it possible for you to not live in fear of death and dying. You can rejoice with the knowledge that this life is only a small snippet of your total existence, and with all its joy, it is still the worst you will ever experience.
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Scripture links/references are from BibleGateway.com. Unhighlighted scriptures can be looked up at their website.