Americans will celebrate their Thanksgiving holiday on November 24th. Each year it’s the fourth Thursday of November. Why Thursday? Don’t know. But they get a day off. They run big parades, go to church, and gather for turkey’d family meals.
A bigger question is, why don’t we celebrate it in New Zealand? We seem to have bought into Valentine’s Day and Halloween, and all those various Black Friday sales – at least, retail businesses have … oh, wait, there’s my answer: gifts aren’t given at Thanksgiving, so of course the retailers and media aren’t going to promote it.
But we should. Thanksgiving is its own gift, and should be promoted for its own sake. Thanksgiving could be such a boost for the mental health of our country. Yet we steadfastly push Halloween instead. Go figure.
The earliest record of America’s celebration seems to have been on the landing of thirty-eight settlers at Virginia, on December 4th 1619. The group’s charter included, “that the day of our ships’ arrival at the place assigned for plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” There were other declarations of thanks for other arrivals and survivals, until George Washington, as President of the United States, proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration, November 26th 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God”.
The ‘Almighty God’ in all this is evident and, pointedly, every book of the New Testament emphasises the way of gratitude, especially at times of hardship. 1 Thess 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” And, more fully, 2 Cor 4:15-18: “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
The writer was in prison and his execution was imminent.
GK Chesterton called gratitude “the mother of all virtues”, and you can see his point. Thanksgiving focuses on what we have and enjoy, rather than what we don’t and don’t, and can be embraced as a supplier of perspective, balance and mental well-being.
An anecdote, to reinforce:
I heard about a man who stumbled on Satan’s supply of seeds – the seeds he sews in the human heart. There was great variety, but the man noticed, more numerous than all the others, the seeds of discouragement. He learnt that these seeds were very hardy and could grow anywhere, under any conditions. He questioned the keeper of the seeds, who admitted, “You are right – these seeds will grow almost anywhere.”
“Almost? You mean there is somewhere the seeds of discouragement will not grow?”
“Yes,” the keeper replied. “They won’t grow in the heart of a thankful person.”
Thankfulness is the antidote for discouragement. And despair. And complaining. So, let’s count our blessings, New Zealand; list the things we can be thankful for, in bringing balance to our hardships and challenges. Practise gratitude, and overcome. And, why not do something to cement the intent on Nov 24th.