The first ever unofficial Thanksgiving is known to have taken place in 1621, as the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast and thanked God for their bountiful blessings. The years that would follow saw many such feasts of gratitude and celebration in the colonies at different times and locations by various groups. But it was not until Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation that Thanksgiving became an official holiday celebrated at the same time by everyone in the United States.
In that proclamation President Lincoln stated,
“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields 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 cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God…”
“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.” – Abraham Lincoln, Thanksgiving Proclamation, (October 3, 1863).
Lincoln’s references to our forgetfulness of the source of the blessings we enjoy appears to still be with us today. In a society that is gradually declining into debt and poverty, while at the same time increasing in materialistic fanaticism, we have never before been more in danger of not only forgetting the source of blessings, but also the very things that constitute blessings, both from the glamour of extravagance, and forgetfulness of the provision of our basic necessities.
“..he who sits by the fire, thankless for the fire, is just as he had no fire. Nothing is possessed in appreciation of which thankfulness is the indispensable ingredient.” – William John Cameron
We’re continually swimming in blessings. And this may be the reason why we don’t recognize them as such. But once remove the blessings that what we’ve grown too familiar to, and their void creates a panic within us that illuminates them like nothing else can. William John Cameron said it well,
“It is literally true, as the thankless say, that they have nothing to be thankful for. He who sits by the fire, thankless for the fire, is just as if he had no fire. Nothing is possessed save in appreciation, of which thankfulness is the indispensable ingredient. But a thankful heart hath a continual feast.” (William John Cameron, A Series of Talks Given on the Ford Sunday Evening Hour, 1935).
Since our basic nature fueled by pride dictates, we are apt to forget that for which we should really be thankful. In this regard the grateful heart is one that is fluid in changing perspective to continually filter the true blessings from things of mere extravagance. And to do this one must be more in control of oneself –
“The act of appreciation of any great thing is an act of self-conquest.” – William Butler Yeats, from Dramatis Personae, The Death of Synge (1936).
As for me, I would count all my blessings, but I’ve not the time nor the meticulousness, for I presume that I’d be far too preoccupied with counting to be able to do anything else. I’m content to let it all be. If not these set of blessings, then certainly another completely different would invariably take its place. No matter how dire the situation may appear, even through the most horrid pain and suffering, if there is air in the lungs to utter a thanks, even for the very breath with which to utter, then there is something still to be grateful for. The grateful heart does not contemplate or measure the things it lacks, but accepts the hand that has been dealt him, thankful that there be cards at all, and plays the game with gratitude and integrity.
What then is there of prosperity? To strive for personal and professional progress is commendable. However, true prosperity is contentment – the appreciation of what you already have. The most thankful of all are those who expect nothing. At this measure every bit that presents itself in favor of or beyond our basic well-being will be appreciated. Being thankful is a persistent attitude of the heart, not merely the brief trite utterances at dinner during a single evening out of the year. Pure gratitude is essentially the language of very few words.
Arthur is an author, a former agnostic, and current ambassador of Jesus of Nazareth who loves to share the best of reasons for God's ultimate reality. His love and passion are helping skeptics and Christians grow in their faith and knowledge of God through accessible materials.