The first time Thanksgiving was set as a national holiday was in October of 1863, during the Civil War. It had been celebrated before but not on a set day with any thought of it becoming a part of every year. At the suggestion of a lady who wrote to President Lincoln he set aside the fourth Thursday of every November as a day of Thanksgiving. In the decree Lincoln noted that God had blessed this nation and that as long as we followed His guide God would heal the wounds of the nation and bless its future. He felt he was being guided by the providential hand of God when he gave the Emancipation Proclamation and even in going to war to preserve the union.
Imagine a young man far from home, cold, afraid fighting for a cause he believed in even though he may not have understood all the ramifications of the war. In such cases it was far too often the case that men watched boyhood friends as well as brothers, fathers and cousins slain on the battle field. Often the wounds would have been something from which in our day they could have healed without permanent damage. But the knowledge of medicine wasn’t nearly so far along then nor were the tools or the medicines available if they had the knowledge. I can imagine as the cool winds of November began to blow the heart of every man on the battlefield turning back toward home and the loved ones they left behind to try to hold things together while they were away. If they heard of the President’s decree they must have longed for the day to come when they could sit peacefully around the table to eat with family and friends, to laugh and talk about other things than war and death.
It is amazing to think that Thanksgiving Day would become the common practice during a time of the worst rift the nation has ever known. Perhaps if we remember the soil in which Thanksgiving came to be it might lead to different thoughts and even a different kind of celebration than what we normally think of.
Today there are still young men and women on the battlefield far away from home and family. They too have seen far too much death, destruction and disappointment. Too many times when they are able to come home, even if the body is intact the psychological and spiritual damage done may take a lifetime to heal.
This Thanksgiving, if you have the privilege of gathering with family and friends for a fun celebration, think of those who can’t get home or who don’t have the family to spend time with. The world as a whole has changed in many ways since 1863. We seem less likely to trace the events of the day to the guidance or providence of God. The ties of government to Christianity have been loosened considerably. But it is still the case that we have much to be thankful for and the right one to offer the thanks to is God. When we pray let’s thank God for liberties and responsibilities, for blessing even if they don’t always look like blessings, for the leaders of our country and of other countries even though we may not agree with them on some things and thank God you can be at your family table. Please pray for every person on a battlefield who wishes they were home. And pray for the families that have an empty space for the ones who won’t be coming home. It would be wonderful if during this time we saw more clearly the hand of God upon our nation and our world and became committed to following His lead.