The Thanksgiving Holiday
With the celebration of our parish 30th Anniversary this month, falling so close to the Thanksgiving holiday, it seemed appropriate to take a brief look back and recall the establishment of Thanksgiving in our country.
The first Thanksgiving celebration was probably held in 1621, about 11 years after Pilgrims had first arrived in Virginia. It wasn’t until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln declared the third Thursday of November would become a national day of thanksgiving. The final paragraph of his proclamation reads:
“It has seemed to me fit and proper that God 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 as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father Who dwelleth in the heavens.”
Having the Thanksgiving Day celebration just a month prior to Christmas makes for a six-week holiday season prior to the close of the year that is focused on God’s many blessings. The Nativity season for the Orthodox Church calendar begins on November 15th, and prescribes, as it does prior to all major feastdays, fasting as part of our preparation.
Fasting may not be on top of most people’s minds during Thanksgiving, but it would sure help with that over-stuffed feeling most of us come away with after eating our family feast. Our bodies and our souls would both be grateful if we were to focus our attention more on giving thanks than only on how much food our plates and stomachs can hold. With the tradition of eating turkey or ham for Thanksgiving, a general dispensation of allowing meat for Thanksgiving is understood for this holiday.
Holy Scripture is filled with references to God’s people offering thanks. This is more than a courtesy; it is a need common to all people of faith. Realizing that all blessings are not simply good fortune but come down from our Father in Heaven, should keep the thought of offering thanks at the tip of our tongue throughout the year, and in every season.
There is a story of a Scottish minister, Alexander Whyte, who was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member remarked, "Certainly the preacher won't think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this." Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying, "We thank Thee, O God, that not all days are as miserable as this."
In our own words, together with those whom we love, let us offer thanks to God for His many blessings on Thanksgiving Day. He is our God, and we are His people. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136)