Thanksgivings on Special Occasions
Most Americans look forward to Thanksgiving, but perhaps most do not realize that it is a Protestant permission, in a manner of speaking.
In the early days of the Reformation, Christian leaders met to discuss the formalities of the church and to establish rules for worship. How should the worship service begin? What is the correct posture in church for times of prayer— stand, sit or kneel?
What are the sacraments to be observed, and how ought they to be administered and by whom? Should a man not called into the pastorate be allowed to serve communion? Should any special days be acknowledged in addition to the day of rest, the Sabbath, on Sundays?
Their careful studies and decisions may be read in articles on the internet and in documents such as the Westminster Confession and The Directory of Publick Worship.
In the Directory, a section is devoted to the Observation of Days of Public Thanksgiving. Although the time of reformation proclaimed an end to the feast days of the Roman church that had no basis in Scripture, the reformers saw good purpose in special days being set apart for thanksgiving or for fasting, as occasions may dictate. The Anglican church accepted the concepts of the Reformation.
So, the descendants of the Pilgrims and other early Americans could embrace President George Washington’s call for a Day of Thanksgiving which he issued on October 3, 1789, 230 years ago today. The special day would be celebrated on Thursday, November 26 (1789). You can read Washington’s proclamation here.
The Pilgrims are credited with celebrating the first Thanksgiving:
The American Thanksgiving also has its origin in the faith practices of Puritan New England, where strict Calvinist doctrine sanctioned only the Sabbath, fast days and thanksgivings as religious holidays or “holy days.” To the Puritans, a true “thanksgiving” was a day of prayer and pious humiliation, thanking God for His special Providence. Auspicious events, such as the sudden ending of war, drought or pestilence, might inspire a thanksgiving proclamation. It was like having an extra Sabbath during the week. Fasts and thanksgivings never fell on a Sunday. (ref)
Thus, when President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as a national holiday (holy day), he stood in a long tradition of Americans desiring to thank God for his bountiful care.
He declared this on October 3, 1863, which, after enumerating the blessings of God on America, read, in part:
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. 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.
Thanksgiving was made a fixed, national holiday to be celebrated the fourth Thursday of November by Congress on October 6, 1941, and the resolution was signed by President Franklin Roosevelt later that year.
Do we celebrate Thanksgiving as a holy day devoted to thanking God for blessing us in America? Even at this late date since the founding of our republic, there is so much to be thankful for.
Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me. (Ps 50:14-15)
This is the first in a brief blog series, “Thanksgivings on special occasions.” The series will pick up again in November.
Thanksgivings on Special Occasions blog series slideshow image credits: Pixabay.com - Easter-Andy Frazier, Thanksgiving dinner-free-photos, Christmas tree-Skeeze.