WHY WE CELEBRATE THANKSGIVING DAY
by Inez H. Comparet
The United States is the only nation in the world that sets aside one day a year as a day of Thanksgiving to our God. Have you ever thought WHY we celebrate that day? While Thanksgiving Day as a religious ceremony is not celebrated elsewhere as it is here, it did not have its beginnings among the New England colonists. But it did originate with our ancient ancestors, the Israelites. Those of you who listen regularly to this program know that we are the literal descendants of God’s people Israel.
In their early history, offerings for thanksgiving were a regular feature of worship among them. Certain feast days were set aside each year in which to give thanks—this was a national celebration. They brought the first fruits of their harvest unto God and gave thanks for his blessings. And in the fall they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles, where much emphasis was put on rejoicing. In Deuteronomy 16:13-15 it says: “Thou shalt observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, after thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine. And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast * * * for the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase and in every work of thine hands, and thou shalt rejoice.
A call to Thanksgiving followed their great achievements, acknowledging that God was with them. One example is given in 1st Chronicles the 16th chapter where it tells of the return of the Ark of the Covenant to the city of David. The Ark had been captured by the Philistines and its safe return was a source of great rejoicing. They offered burnt offerings and the peace offerings and David gave every Israelite a loaf of bread, a piece of fish and a flask of wine. David wrote the following poem especially for the occasion and it is just as appropriate for today as it was then: “Give thanks unto the Lord, Call upon His name, Make known His deeds among the people. Sing unto Him * * * Remember His marvelous works that He hath done His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth; 0 ye seed of Israel, His servant, Ye children of Jacob, His chosen ones. * * * Be ye mindful always of His covenant the word which He commanded to a thousand generations; Even the covenant which He made with Abraham, and of His oath unto Isaac; And hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant.” It is obvious that God has fulfilled this to us for which we should give thanks.
Nehemiah tells if a great day of Thanksgiving at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem. It was celebrated with thanksgivings, with singing and with harps. Verse 43 of the 12th chapter of Nehemiah says: “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for the Lord had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced; so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.
There are many Scriptures that tell us to give thanks. For example: Psalm 100:1-4 “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands, Serve the Lord with gladness: Come before His presence with singing, Know ye that the Lord He is God. It is He that hath made us and not we ourselves; We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” Psalm 50:14-15 ‘ “Offer unto God thanksgiving” and pay thy vows unto the Most High: And call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.
The command is given in the New Testament too. For example 1st Thessalonians 5:15 says: “In every thing give thanks: for this is this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
There Is a description of our own nation in the 30th chapter of Jeremiah. It tells of the time when the captivities would be past and verse 17 says: “For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds.” Then it tells of a people who would be governed by elected representatives –ten chosen from among the people, and who would not have a king. Verse 21 states it as follows: “And their nobles shall be of themselves, and their governor shall proceed from the midst of them, saith the Lord.
God even tells us that we will offer thanks. Verse 19 states: “And out of them shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of them that make merry: and I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small.
Centuries of history have proved that there is such a thing as a racial differences. This has shown itself in the consistent development of races according to their pattern — according to their own ancestry. When these same Israel people came to America what do we find? They all have the same inborn desire to give thanks to their God. The first American Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1626, after the reaping of their first harvest. This followed a winter of great starvation and privation and Governor Bradford proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving to thank God for their preservation, and the food to sustain them. The feast was shared by the colonists and the neighboring Indians. Other days of Thanksgiving were called, but on no particular date.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony held its first Thanksgiving in 1630. In 1644 the Dutch of New Netherland set a day to give thanks and set one occasionally thereafter.
In a proclamation for a day of Thanksgiving in Charlston in 1676 they called themselves “God’s own Covenant people in this wilderness.” Another of our early writers speaks of “the vine which God has here planted, casting out the heathen, and preparing a room before it, and causing it to take deep root, and fill the land.
Congress recommended days of thanksgiving annually during the Revolution, and in 1784 for a return of peace. George Washington set aside Thursday November 26, 1789 as a day of Thanksgiving after the adoption of the Constitution. And also on Thursday February 19, 1795 for the general benefits and welfare of the nation.
Many states celebrated Thanksgiving days but it was not until 1815 that it was celebrated nationally again. President James Madison urged the people to offer thanks on a day set apart by proclamation. This came at the end of the war of 1812, when they bad much to be thankful for.
But we have a woman to thank for our year of observation of the day. For 17 years Mrs. Sarah J. Hale campaigned for a national Thanksgiving day. She was the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book She ran many editorials and created favorable public sentiment. A number of the states adopted a day of Thanksgiving – but not the same day. Mrs. Hale began her campaign in 1847, petitioning six presidents, beginning with James Polk. She finally got a sympathetic hearing from Abraham Lincoln. After the victory of Gettysburg, Lincoln proclaimed Thursday August 6, 1863, ad a day of Thanksgiving to God for the victory of Gettysburg. Mrs. Hale called President Lincoln’s attention to the need of an annual Thanksgiving festival on an established day of the year. So that same year, 1863, Lincoln issued the proclamation naming the last Thursday in November as the first annual, national Thanksgiving Day, saying “It has seemed to me fit and proper” to do this.
Since that time each president has issued such a proclamation, using the last Thursday in November, until President Franklin Roosevelt changed the day in 1939, to the third Thursday of November. He did this for three years and then it was taken out of the presidents hands, for on December 26, 1941 a joint Congressional resolution designated the fourth Thursday of November in each year as Thanksgiving Day, making that day a legal holiday, “Each year after the year 1941”.
Many things arise spontaneously out of some occasion, without having roots in the past. But our national day of thanksgiving so consistently follows the ancient pattern that it is another of the many marks which identify us as God’s People Israel. He prophesied this when, In Isaiah 43:21, He said of us: “This People have I formed for Myself, They shall shew forth my praise”.
Our ancient ancestors recognized this divine pattern in our life, when they wrote in Psalm 79:13: “So we Thy People and sheep of Thy pasture, will give Thee thanks forever, We will shew forth Thy praise to all generations”.
Our ancestors who built this great nation in the wilderness again recognized the ancient racial pattern, for they quoted the Scriptural authority commanding it. Today, we too should know our racial identity and the customs which God founded for us, and give thanks to Him, not only for our blessings of health, peace and prosperity, but for the supreme blessing of all: that we are His people, His children. And say with David in Psalm 79:13: “So we Thy People and sheep of Thy pasture , Will give Thee thanks forever, We will show forth Thy praise to all generations”.