I wrote this piece for my book a few years ago. As we approach another Thanksgiving I thought it was worth revisiting.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Part of the reason is that it comes in my favorite season, autumn. For me, it also is the start of a long holiday season. I like to enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years for as long as I can. That is why saying “Happy Holidays” is not offensive to me. Oh I understand and sympathize with the argument Christians have with this phrase. We want to put Christ back in Christmas. And I say “Merry Christmas” frequently. But for me “Happy Holidays” refers to the entire holiday season that begins with Thanksgiving and ends with New Year’s Day, so I am not put off by those greetings. In fact, if you want to wish me a happy Wednesday, I’ll take that too.
The other reason I prefer Thanksgiving is the lack of commercialism, although that is now being tested. It is not about shopping or giving gifts. It is not about the making or spending of money. Thanksgiving is about gratitude for what I have instead of thinking about what I want or need. It makes me mindful of the many blessings God has given me. It keeps me God-focused rather than me-focused. It fosters contentment.
This year God has stilled me, and that has given me plenty of time to reflect on His goodness. I won’t be able to have Thanksgiving dinner at my house so I am SO grateful for daughters who step up. As I recover from knee replacement I am grateful for modern medicine and that I won’t stay in this state forever. I’m grateful for a husband who takes such good care of me. And I am so very thankful for all my friends who have brought in meals, come to visit, and called to check on me. Thank you Lord, for an abundance of people in my life.
The Pilgrims understood our need for gratitude. They suffered more adversities than I ever will yet they knew it was important to set aside one day and thank God. They dug so many graves and yet they found reason to be grateful. In 1623 Governor William Bradford declared that everyone should assemble together “and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”
Psychologists who have studied gratitude have found that gratitude is directly correlated with life satisfaction, peace, and joy. Individuals who cultivate and express gratitude have fewer health complaints, reduced stress, and are generally less self-absorbed. Dr. Robert Emmons, the world’s leading expert on gratitude states, “The fabric of gratitude is deeply woven into the human experience.” He has found that there are two parts to gratitude: acknowledging the goodness in life and recognizing the source of that goodness.
I believe God created us with not only the capacity to experience gratitude, but also the need to express it. Our Father knew that his children would reap psychological, physiological and interpersonal benefits by cultivating a grateful heart. He does not need our praise; it is we who need to praise Him. I have noticed something in my own life. Maybe it is not a scientific fact, but it is something I have observed. The more I praise Him for His blessings, the more blessings I receive. Maybe that is not actually the case; maybe I am just aware of more of the blessings I already have. Either way, it fills my heart with joy.
I think there is something wonderful that happens with corporate praise, when we thank him together with our families, our church families, and our nation. It binds us together. It brings us in touch with the things we have in common and directs our attention away from the things that divide us. That is why we need a National Day of Thanksgiving. When we gather together on Thanksgiving Day, let us thank God for our blessings and acknowledge that He is the Source of everything good in our lives, in our families, and in our country.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle. Psalm 103:1-5 (NASB).