In 1649, Connecticut began observing a day of thanks annually, the first of the American colonies to do so. Ten years earlier, after overcoming strong opposition, they had designated a single public day of thanksgiving. Those opposed to designating one day to express gratitude to God objected because they feared people would fail to give Him thanks on other days.1 One aspect of the debate over having a formal Thanksgiving Day required no discussion—the representatives were all united in the need to express gratitude to God.
In this country, it is evident by early proclamations that the historical purpose of Thanksgiving Day was to give thanks to God. The opening words of the first presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation read, “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations 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 . . .”2 That proclamation was issued by President George Washington on October 3, 1789, and it designated Thursday, November 26, 1789, as a national day of thanks. With varying degrees of commitment, God has been acknowledged by every American president since.
Giving thanks to God does not offer relief from peril. In fact, from colonial days until now, Thanksgiving proclamations have often been offered during times of peril. History teaches us that the reason for the earliest Thanksgiving holidays was to give thanks for survival through perilous events. Colonists did not give thanks to God because all was well; they thanked God because they had survived when all was not well.
Is not that one lesson we learn from Paul writing in a Roman prison? He admonished, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Always. For all things. To God. Through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In a world that demands we focus on all that is wrong, may we determine to be attentive to so much that is right. Many who came before us had so little, yet they were thankful to God for so much! Often, the worst circumstances brought out their best gratitude. We are blessed. God is good. May He accept our thanks, on Thanksgiving Day and every day, in Jesus’ name.
On behalf of Portland world headquarters, Debbie and I extend happy Thanksgiving greetings to Apostolic Faith saints everywhere.
1 Graves, Dan. “It Happened Today: Connecticut Started an Annual Tradition of a Day of Thanksgiving,” Christian History Institute, www.christianhistoryinstitute.org, accessed Nov 21, 2022.
2 “George Washington Papers: Series 8, Miscellaneous Papers, ca. 1738 to 1799,Subseries 8A, Correspondence and Miscellaneous Notes: Correspondence and Miscellaneous Notes, 1773-1799,” Library of Congress, www.loc.gov, accessed Nov 21, 2022.