You’ve probably heard the story of the first Thanksgiving, but maybe you’re not familiar with how it developed into a national holiday. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony invited their Wampanoag friends to a feast to give thanks to God for the bountiful harvest that would sustain them all winter. Just a few months earlier, their first harsh winter at Plymouth had devastated the unprepared Pilgrims, taking the lives of half the colony. Now they were filled with gratitude that this winter would be different. To celebrate the harvest and their ability to worship God without fear of persecution, they spent three days feasting and praying.
The Pilgrims repeated this harvest feast in the years that followed. The tradition of annual thanksgiving developed and spread throughout New England, and later to other colonies. But it was not until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln gave a Thanksgiving Proclamation emphasizing the importance of recognizing God as the provider of all blessings every year, that Thanksgiving became a nationally recognized annual holiday. He began his speech by saying:
“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful years and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the Source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.”
Lincoln was grateful because events of that year had turned the tide of the Civil War, and it finally looked as if the ruptured nation would see a resolution. Just like the Pilgrims, Lincoln had seen hard times and wanted to express his gratitude to the Lord for providing relief. He concluded by designating the last Thursday of November as a national day of Thanksgiving.
This tradition was upheld by most subsequent presidents until Depression-era business owners prompted Franklin D. Roosevelt to lengthen the Christmas shopping season by observing Thanksgiving a week earlier in 1939. After two more years of early Thanksgiving, public outrage led Congress in 1941 to pass a law solidifying the fourth Thursday of every November as Thanksgiving.
In this season of Thanksgiving, what should you thank God for? The answer is anything and everything. Thank Him for your family, your friends, the food you eat and the roof over your head. But most of all, you can thank Him for the wonderful gift of His Son Jesus Christ.
The Bible tells us that salvation is not something that can be earned, but is given to us freely by God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Because we are all sinners, we cannot possibly reach Heaven based on our own merits, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But because of His love for us, God provided a way for us to be saved—through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Eternal life—what blessing could be greater? If you want to enter Heaven, all you must do is put your faith in Christ. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). If you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and you want Him to come into your heart, you can say a prayer like this:
Dear God, I know that I am a sinner and I ask for Your forgiveness. Thank You for all that You provide for me, but most of all thank You for Your Son Jesus Christ. I know that He died so that I would have eternal life. I want to live for You and be ever thankful for the wonderful Provider I have in You. Amen.