What Makes American Thanksgiving Unique?

Not thankfulness for Mother Nature’s bounty or the camaraderie of Friendsgiving, the very name—Thanksgiving Day—affirms that Americans acknowledge a Benefactor to Whom our thanks is owed.

Early American presidents among others identified that benefactor as the Almighty God. President George Washington declared the first National Day of Thanksgiving commemorated on Thursday, November 26, 1789,

“to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.” (1)

Presidents John Adams and James Madison issued similar proclamations. Abraham Lincoln made the holiday a permanent national observance 74 years later. In Lincoln’s “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” issued on October 3, 1863, his purpose for the day was clearly articulated.

“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.” (2)

What the Founding Fathers incorporated into civic life of the United States of America, however, is actually a model patterned after what King David observed in ancient Israel:

“David first delivered this psalm into the hand of Asaph and his brethren, to thank the Lord:

‘Oh, give thanks to the Lord!
Call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples!’” (1 Chr. 16:7-8)

David understood the importance of uniting as a nation to thank the One-true God. When we celebrate as the forefathers intended, authentic thanksgiving is worship of the Sovereign of Creation.

Thanksgiving Day is the annual opportunity when we collectively unite as a nation for the express purpose of thanking God. Like the Founding Fathers, people of faith who embrace the Judeo-Christian values our nation was founded upon must determine to publicly: 

    • Acknowledge God as Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Col. 1:16)
    • Proclaim that people—including pre-born, infirm and aged— are uniquely created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27-28).
    • Communicate that every breath we breathe, all our possessions and the ability to enjoy life are gifts from God (Eccl. 2:24)
    • Declare God’s goodness to those around us; and then, praise and thank Him (Ps. 96:2)

Begin now to prepare your heart for Thanksgiving Day. It is the spiritual component that makes American Thanksgiving unique. Make God who is the Benefactor of all we enjoy in life the focus of your Thanksgiving celebration this year.

1) George Washington’s October 3, 1789, Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. [Public domain]
2) Mount Rushmore. [Public domain]
3) The Lincoln Memorial, detail. [Public domain]

1) T.K. Byron PhD, “Thanksgiving,” George Washington’s Mount Vernon website.
2) Abraham Lincoln Speeches and Writings, Abraham Lincoln online archive.

Copyright © 2016 Charles E. McCracken. Repost/Reprint with permission. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.