Well, actually it was a proclamation—which is similar to an executive order, and there were two of them…
On October 3, 1789, President George Washington proclaimed November 26, 1789 “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God….” Then, on October 3, 1863 (during the Civil War), President Abraham Lincoln set the precedent for an annual celebration of the holiday. In response to the many blessings that we enjoy, President Lincoln announced:
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.
We don’t often realize how important Thanksgiving is. Its meaning goes far beyond time with family, pumpkin pie, and football. Properly celebrated, it reflects a humble, countrywide appreciation for God’s providence, the blessings that we’ve received, and each other.
Just as thanklessness is the mother of many evils (it signals the self-centeredness that is the source of our many vices), thankfulness is a cure to many ills. Relational conflict, greed, jealousy, laziness, selfishness, you name it; a spirit of gratitude gives us a proper perspective on life and opens our eyes to the numerous ways that we’ve been—and done—wrong.
[pq]Just as thanklessness is the mother of many evils, thankfulness is a cure to many ills.[/pq]
In our gratitude, we begin to focus less on ourselves, and more on God and our neighbor. Thankfulness is explicitly other-focused. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s exactly what our country needs.
And this need isn’t time or place dependent. We are called to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). During times of relative peace and prosperity—like today, we must not take it for granted. But during times of conflict and misery, we must also give thanks. President Lincoln delivered his proclamation during a war that cost more American lives than any other, acknowledging that there was still much to be thankful for. Even in the midst of horrible wars, we can be thankful that we have the ability to stand and fight for good over evil. And even as we experience continued racial strife in our country, we can be thankful for the examples and possibility of redemption.
So, what am I thankful for? Well, amongst a great many things, two presidents who used their positions of power to proclaim an important message. On this Thanksgiving—and every other, may we all have grateful hearts and seriously reflect on what all that entails.