Here we are in the month of November with the leaves almost gone and chilly winds blowing. We will soon have a holiday to celebrate – Thanksgiving day. Many of us will sit down to a meal of turkey and trimmings, followed by the proverbial pumpkin pie and football. But, what do we know about what and how this holiday came about?
Certainly we think about the Pilgrim immigrants being hosted by the natives of this country. And the fact that George Washington wanted to annually recognize this event – honoring God for having brought us to this shore. But it did not become an annual event until the mid-1800’s when through the efforts and prompting of a most persistent lady, Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of a prominent magazine for women, a widow with five children, a campaign began in the 1830’s.
It took some thirty years for her desire to be realized, but in 1863, in the midst of the worst war our nation has ever encountered, President Abraham Lincoln issued the following proclamation:
“…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. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union…”
Over the next seventy-five years, Presidents followed Lincoln’s precedent, annually declaring a national Thanksgiving Day. Then in 1941, Congress established the fourth Thursday of each November as the national holiday. A number of us have made this a four day weekend and have taken Friday off as well.
Now, the question in my mind is: what have we done with it? Do we take the time each Thanksgiving day to give God our thanks and praise for what we enjoy in this country? Do we set aside a time to praise God for the gifts we receive? Do we offer up credit to God for the little things which make our lives so good?
As I thought about this, I reflected on the fact that during the football season, the WVU band traditionally plays a piece by Aaron Copland from Appalachian Spring. It was written to put to music a poem entitled “Simple Gifts”. Elder Joseph Brackett penned these words:
“‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.”
Indeed, if we can pause long enough from our football games, our Black Friday shopping, and our own self-interests, we can give God thanks for freedom, love, and peace. Many people use social media to itemize certain things and people for which they are thankful throughout the month, and this is noteworthy and is admired. But, most of us don’t and we wait for the actual day to reflect on God’s goodness to us and to our families, to our country and to our world.
You know, God’s Son, Jesus was a simple man. He led a simple life. He performed simple miracles. He preached a simple gospel. He proclaimed a simple love for all. He provided a simple salvation for all.
And I guess that’s what I think we ought to do this Thanksgiving – give God praise and thanks for the simple things in life.
James Musgrave is interim pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Logan and a member of the Logan Ministerial Association.