Being enriched in everything to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.  2 Corinthians 9:11-12

The American concept of Thanksgiving was developed in the colonies of New England. The original Pilgrims brought with them a tradition of providential holidays, days of fasting during difficult or pivotal moments and days of feasting and rejoicing to thank God in times of plenty. Part of the traditions can be found with the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans who would feast and paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest and the ancient Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. In addition the Native Americans had a rich tradition of marking the fall harvest with feasting and merrymaking long before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock.

It is believed that the origin of our Thanksgiving Day was based on a festival held in 1623 to celebrate the supplies and news that Captain Miles Standish brought that a Dutch supply ship was on its way. A drought had destroyed their crops and there was concern about their survival through the winter. Over the next 150 years festivals of Thanksgiving were sporadically observes as autumn harvest celebrations. In 1789, Elias Boudinot from Massachusetts, member of the House of Representatives, moved that a day of Thanksgiving be held to thank God for giving the American people the opportunity to create a Constitution to preserve their hard won freedoms. A Congressional Joint Committee approved the motion, and informed President George Washington. On October 3, 1789, the President proclaimed that the people of the United States observe “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” on Thursday, the 26th of November.

Most of the credit for the establishment of an annual Thanksgiving holiday may be given to the Editor of Ladies Magazine and Godey’s Lady’s Book, Sarah Josepha Hale. Editor of Ladies Magazine and Godey’s Lady’s Book, she began to agitate for such a day in 1827 by printing articles in the magazines. She began to promote the holiday through printed articles in the magazine, published stories and recipes. She wrote numerous letters to governors, senators, and presidents and after 36 years of petitioning, she won her battle. On October 3, 1863 President Lincoln proclaimed that November 26, would be a national Thanksgiving Day, to be observed every year on the fourth Thursday of November.

A beautiful sermon about Thanksgiving was delivered by Rev. Thomas Baldwin on February 19, 1795 at the Second Baptist Church in Boston Massachusetts. The sermon, written before the establishment of the Thanksgiving holiday, contained three sections about how we show our thanksgiving to God. Here are several excerpts from it:

I. We are to show when it may be said of a nation that “the Lord is their God.”

As a nation, we form a particular character in distinction from that of individuals. As such, we may exhibit the amiable [likeable] features of virtue and religion, or the base picture of vice and infidelity. In this character we may receive temporal blessings as the fruits and reward of virtue, and also suffer national calamities as the punishment of our vice and impiety.

  1. To show, what evidence a people may have that the Lord hath chosen them for his inheritance.

The terms very naturally imply each other; agreeably to the tenor of the new covenant, “I will be their God and they shall be My people” [Ezekiel 37:27]. And again, “I love them that love me” [Proverbs 8:17].

Although this part of our subject may not appear so capable of proof as the former (since neither love nor hatred can be certainly known by common course of Providence) as one event happeneth to all, yet undoubtedly there may be some rational evidence in favor of the people whom God hath chosen.

III. To infer the duty and obligations of a people thus favored and blessed. The two following inferences very naturally arise from the subject;

  1. If we have chosen the Lord to be our God, it is our indispensible duty to acknowledge with thanksgiving the numerous favors He confers upon us.
  2. As we are dependent creatures, it is our duty to beseech the kind Author of these blessings to continue them to us and to extend those which we enjoy to all mankind.

His conclusion encourages us to see beyond ourselves, recognize the plight of others and live as God would wish us to.

While we commiserate [empathize with] the cause of the unfortunate and sympathize in their distresses, let us endeavor wisely and thankfully to improve our privileges and blessings to the glory of God and the best good of our fellow-men. Let us diligently cultivate habits of “sobriety, order, morality and piety” and study to lead “quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty” [1 Timothy 2:2].

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