Why Do We Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Written by Cheryl Broetje, Founder and President

I have been doing a little research on the history of Thanksgiving in the U.S. In 1621, a special dinner was held between two groups of people: 1) ‘pilgrims’ who had just arrived from Europe seeking a new land in which to live in freedom to pursue their dreams; and 2) native people who met the pilgrims as they settled in and who had lived on the land for centuries. In 1623, the purpose of that day was designated to be a day of prayer. But within 50 years, the two groups were at war, resulting in 30% of the colonists and 50% of the native people dying.  

In 1789, George Washington declared the 4th Thursday of November to be a public day of thanksgiving and prayer devoted to “the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.  

By 1863, Abraham Lincoln had declared Thanksgiving an official annual holiday. In 1939, Franklin D.  Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the 3rd Thursday of November in an effort to boost the economy by extending the Christmas shopping season a few more days. Due to huge opposition, however, he moved it back two years later to the 4th Thursday.  

Today, Thanksgiving is largely celebrated as a day to be with family and friends, to share feasts of great food, watch football games; this year we will also offer thanks for everyone who has lived through the COVID-19 pandemic. Many will offer thanks for harvest season as well as the health and wellbeing of their families. Those are the stuff of OUR dreams!  

However, God also has a dream; one of reconciling all things in creation together (see Ephesians 1:3-12). Followers of God think not only about individual, private dreams for prosperity but also about how we are going to fit together as a team for the mutual flourishing of the neighborhood! 

In his book Reading for the Common Good Chris Smith says that work is the primary way we realize our dreams today. In seeking the flourishing of God’s dream for our neighborhoods, very specialized kinds of work are often required: the skills of the architect, lawyer, and real estate broker; the essential skills of preschool providers, farmworkers, construction companies, grocery store employees, medical personnel, schoolteachers, truck drivers, and garbage workers; and those who know how to welcome strangers and heal suffering hearts. 

This Thanksgiving you might consider who in your community you are thankful for. Who makes life better for those around you? Do they know that you are grateful for their lives? How could you say thanks? Recently Mrs. Zarifi came into my office. As resettled Afghan refugees, they are long-time residents of Tierra Vida. She was grieving over the lack of safety of women in her family who are still in Afghanistan and hiding out. She was feeling helpless and hopeless. I sat and listened to her story. Later she returned with one of her home-cooked delicacies! A mutual sharing of burdens and need, is how communities have always survived! Together we tend that part of the global garden with the gifts we have been given, in the place where we belong, with people who we have come to care for deeply. When we do that, we build up the body of Christ – Shalom — and the Reign of God in that place. This Thanksgiving I am grateful for ________. Now tell them! 

Stay connected with us - subscribe to our blog!