Thanksgiving – Should We Observe It?
By J. Edwin Pope
Next Thursday, November 28, the United States will be celebrating the national holiday of Thanksgiving. While some question whether members of the church should observe this annual holiday, since it is not one of God’s Holy Days, established by Him and recorded in Scripture – the principle of participating in and celebrating national holidays is made clear in the Scripture.
The first observance of this holiday occurred in the fall of 1621, when the Governor of Plymouth Colony, William Bradford, appointed a day for feasting and thanksgiving. That observance was established to show gratitude to the Almighty as that difficult year drew to an end and the harvest was plentiful. Following that first observance, the colonists continued to celebrate days of thanksgiving annually, in recognition of the blessings received of this new land. When we observe this day traditionally, we think of that group of Englishmen who settled at Plymouth in 1620.
This day has been preserved and continued by Presidents of these United States who believed in God and the Bible as a source of national greatness and integrity. Our first President, George Washington, issued a Thanksgiving proclamation in honor of the new Constitution. He stated, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”
God illustrates this principle in Deuteronomy 17:18-19. He specifically shows that it is His desire that the leaders of nations govern based upon the principles and laws of the Bible.
Abraham Lincoln recognized the need for the people of this nation to stay close to God if we would continue to receive the blessings, which were being afforded us by the Almighty. On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day; a day set aside to give God thanks for the blessings He continued to bestow upon the nation.
Then in December 1941, the U.S. Congress established the fourth Thursday of November from that year forward, officially, as Thanksgiving Day.
But would God have us keep this day as a national holiday in respect of all that He has done for this people and nation, since this is not a day He established and specifically requires in Scripture?
We have examples of national holidays established by the Jews and recorded in Scripture for historical purposes – days, which were not established specifically by God to reflect His overall plan. Thus, the fact that Thanksgiving Day was established by the early colonists rather than by divine authority, does not, in itself, make it wrong for a Christian to celebrate such a day.
In John 10:22-23, we find Jesus attending the “Feast of Dedication,” which was established by the Jews to commemorate the purification of the Temple at Jerusalem. That feast was celebrated on the anniversary of the day that the re-establishment of divine worship occurred, after Antiochus Epiphanes had been vanquished and the Temple purified. This occurred around 165 A.D.
Thus, Christ’s attendance at the annual holiday clearly illustrated that it was good and right to attend and celebrate a national holiday established for the right purposes. There was nothing wrong in celebrating this holiday and giving special thanks to God on that day!
God led Esther and Mordecai to establish the Feast of Purim to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews from Haman (Esther 9).
A very significant point here is that in neither of the Jewish holidays of the “Feast of Dedication,” nor the “Feast of Purim,” is there any hint of a pagan origin. That is true also in relation to the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. It is not true with Christmas, Easter, and Halloween, all three of which were originally celebrated in honor of pagan gods and pagan traditions and which, today, continue to be used as counterfeits of God’s ordained Holy Days.
Numerous Scriptures reveal to us that we are to submit to the laws and ordinances of the land as long as these laws and ordinances do not conflict with God’s Laws and His Way of life. Examples of such Scriptures are: I Peter 2:13-18; Matthew 22:21; and Romans 13:1-4.
The overall point in these Scriptures is that orderly government is part of God’s provision for the land, even in a wicked world. No ruler exercises control except as God permits (Daniel 4:17). Under normal circumstances, one who would follow God’s Way is to be obedient to the laws of the land except where those laws contradict the Laws of God. In such a situation – the Christian must obey God, rather than men (Acts 5:29; Daniel 3:16-18; and Daniel 6:10-28).
Of all the national holidays observed in this great land today, Thanksgiving stands out as one that we as Christians can truly embrace.
In the San Diego Union-Tribune, Tuesday, November 19, 2002, there is an article of significance, in which a federal judge in Montgomery, Alabama, ruled a day earlier that a Ten Commandments monument installed in Alabama’s judicial building must be removed (within 30 days) because it violates the separation of church and state. One might wonder how long a national holiday of the stature of Thanksgiving will continue to be allowed in this country.
Thanksgiving is a day that points the family and the nation to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is that God Who will soon be returning to this earth to establish a Kingdom and a Government, which will rule this world based upon the Laws of God. In the meantime we must utilize every opportunity to direct those we come in contact with – to that One, True God. Time for this world is swiftly running out!