What do you think of when it comes to Thanksgiving? Some people think of time with family. Others first anticipate watching football on TV. Yet it seems that for most people, the American celebration of a Thanksgiving holiday centers on food, specifically on a large meal of traditional comfort foods. Ideally all the family shares that special meal--and it may or may not be eaten in front of the television.
It isn’t hard to be thankful when we can enjoy all we want--and then some--of such blessings. Realizing how much God gives us, it certainly is appropriate to thank Him. In the U.S. we trace the history of our national practice back to the Puritan settlers of New England. The story is that they suffered greatly in founding Plymouth colony. Many of them died that first winter. But in 1621, they reaped a bountiful harvest, and proclaimed a three-day festival to celebrate, inviting local Indian tribes to join them, as they thanked the Creator.
The change from freezing and starvation to feasting on a rich harvest seems to emphasize that they felt compelled to publicly give thanks for then having so much! That is where most people leave off thinking about the Puritans. We may quietly say a thank you to them for leaving us such a happy example to follow, but that’s it. However, we would do well to consider what more we can learn from their on-going practice of public thanksgiving to God.
You see, they never checked the calendar in November to determine when it was time for Thanksgiving. They looked around them, at their circumstances, and determined if they should humble themselves and seek God’s mercy, or if they should offer Him their humble thanks. Those Puritan founders of New England were very serious about how they worshipped. They did not celebrate annual saints days or holidays (including Christmas and Easter) because those were not biblical. Instead, in addition to a weekly day of worship, the Puritans on occasion proclaimed days of fasting and supplication to God, or days of celebration and thanksgiving, based solely upon the blessings (or lack thereof) that God sent them.
Interestingly, the American forefathers did not insist on great abundance as the cause for proclaiming thanks to God. In November of 1662, the colonial government of Massachusetts declared a day of Thanksgiving to God for “sparing such a part of the fruits of the earth, whereby man and beast may be sustained." Many years later it demonstrated the extent to which it is possible to give thanks for having just the minimum, when in 1680, it’s proclamation of a thanksgiving holiday praised God because He “hath not given us cleanness of teeth and want of bread in all our places” [cleanness of teeth is a biblical metaphor for famine].
It is easy to be thankful for a table full of turkey, stuffing, pies and other treats. Can we also learn to thank God when He gives us just enough to get by? When we do, we acknowledge that we depend on Him for every single blessing that ever comes our way, that on our own we cannot create, nor sustain life. The apostle Paul set an example, writing that he had learned to be content in whatever state he happened to be; that he had learned to be abased, as well as to abound (Philippians 4:11-12). This can be us; we can thank God for giving us a lot, but we can also thank Him for giving us just enough.