The real reason we celebrate Thanksgiving Day

Most people are under the impression that Thanksgiving Day in America was instituted by the Pilgrims in gratitude to God for their first bountiful harvest in this new land. But the day we celebrate on the fourth Thursday of November was established by an act of Congress more than 200 years later, and has a far different and much more significant meaning than that which the Pilgrims ever intended. To understand and more fully appreciate the purpose of this day, we need to understand the history and purpose of our country.

History tells us that a mariner by the name of Christopher Columbus came to the conclusion that it was possible to sail west from Spain and arrive in India. Most text books teach that the reason why Columbus proposed this voyage was to establish an easier and quicker trading route to India. However, that is not entirely true.

From the journal which Christopher Columbus himself kept, we read of a letter which he wrote explaining the purpose of his journey. In part it said, "Whereas most Christian, high, excellent, and powerful Princes, King and Queen of Spain and of the islands of the sea, our Sovereigns, this present year 1492…. Your highnesses, as Catholic Christians, and princes who love and promote the holy Catholic faith… [have] determined to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the above mentioned countries of India, to see the said princes, people and territories, and to learn their disposition and the proper method of converting them to our holy faith."

Christopher Columbus was a deeply religious Christian and a devoutly committed Catholic. His primary reason for sailing to India was to learn the disposition of the people there "and the proper method of converting them to our holy faith." More than a merchant, Columbus was a Christian missionary intent on spreading his religious ideas to new parts of the world. Furthermore, he proposed that the money made from this expanded trade route was to be used to establish monasteries in any newly discovered lands and to help finance a crusade by the King and Queen of Spain to liberate Jerusalem from the Muslins in anticipation of the second coming of Christ. Thus, his purpose for sailing to India was more religious in nature than it was for wealth or fame.

History records that instead of discovering new islands off the coast of India, Columbus discovered several islands in the Caribbean sea, which he immediately took possession of in the name of Spain. One of these islands he named San Salvador which means "Holy Savior." More than that, the natives of these islands were seen as potential new converts to Christianity. Thus, the first European people who came to this continent did so for the express purpose of establishing a belief in Jesus Christ.

The very first charter which officially authorized the possession of land by an Englishman in what we now call America was given by Queen Elizabeth to Sir Walter Raleigh. It called for him and his heirs "to discover, search, finde out, and view such remote, heathen and barbarous lands" which were not actually possessed by any Christian people, and to establish a government which was "agreeable to the forme of the lawes, statutes, governement, or pollicie of England." Furthermore, Sir Raleigh was instructed by the Queen that these laws should "be not against the true Christian faith. "

King James of England established the first Virginia Charter which said, in part: "by the providence of Almightie God, hereafter tende to the glorie of His Divine Majestie in propagating of Christian religion to suche people as yet live in darkenesse and miserable ignorance of the true knoweledge and worshippe of God and may in tyme bring the infidels and salvages living in those parts to humane civilitie and to a setled and quiet govermente." This charter, like that of Queen Elizabeth, was granted for the purpose of having the colonists seek out the native infidel savages who were living in religious darkness, ignorant of the true knowledge and worship of God and convert them to Christianity for the "propagating of [the] Christian religion."

Referring to this charter by King James, the United States Supreme Court in 1897 declared that: "Language of similar import may be found in the subsequent charters of that colony from the same king in 1609 and 1611; and the same is true of the various other charters granted to the other colonies. In language more or less emphatic is the establishment of the Christian religion declared to be one of the purposes of the grant."

The reason why this country was first colonized was expressly for "the establishment of the Christian religion" as taught and understood by the Church of England. But there were those who had doctrinal disagreements with the state run church, and because of that, they were persecuted and imprisoned for their dissent. In 1620 a small group of such dissenters, known as the Puritans (a.k.a., Pilgrims), sailed from England on a ship known as the Mayflower. When they landed off the coast of what we now call Massachusetts, they signed a written agreement among themselves which we've come to know as the Mayflower Compact. In that document they stated their purpose for coming to America in these words: "having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith, and the honor of our King and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia." The reason why the Pilgrims came to America was for the purpose of advancing their own idea of the Christian faith.

Meanwhile, in England, another group of religious dissenters known as the Quakers suffered a similar fate. Because of their heretical religious ideas, they were often convicted of crimes against the church, imprisoned, and forced to endure brutally inhumane treatment at the hands of their captors. In 1657 they too sailed to America where they hoped to worship God as they choose without fear of punishment from the Church of England. Under the leadership of William Penn, they settled the state of Pennsylvania where his plan was to try a "holy experiment" in governing people. William Penn had hoped to establish a godly society where the laws of the land were based on the peaceable teachings found in the Bible. In fact, the city of Philadelphia, which William Penn designed, became known as the city of brotherly love.

The Baptists also suffered persecution and imprisonment in England for their beliefs. Like the Puritans and Quakers, they too came to the New England to practice their religion free from the threat of harm. One of the leading Baptists of that time was Roger Williams who established the town of Providence, Rhode Island. The word "providence" was one of the names that the early Americans often used when referring to God, and, indeed, this was the very reason why Roger Williams choose that name for his city.

From its very discovery to its colonization, America was a land where people came to worship God according to their own beliefs and where they could have the opportunity to advance their ideas through missionary conversion.

As a result of that desire to worship God, the laws they established were based on the teachings of the Bible. For example, the first constitution establishing the commonwealth state of Connecticut was adopted by the voice of its people. Their constitution stated that the reason why they were coming together as a state was "to preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess… according to the truth of the said Gospel [which] is now practiced among us." Furthermore, their constitution declared that the reason why they "gathered together [was because] the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent government established according to God " (emphasis added). The common people of the state of Connecticut at that time were of the strong opinion that their governing "laws, rules, orders and decrees" should be based on God's word, the Bible.

The same situation existed when the first Continental Congress met on September 7, 1774. Before that first session began, word had reached the delegates in Philadelphia that the British army had attacked the city of Boston. In their opening session, the delegates began by having an official prayer offered by the Reverend Duché, an Episcopalian clergyman. In that prayer - which lasted for three hours - Reverend Duche read Psalm 35 which says: "Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me. Fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of buckler and shield, and rise up for my help. Say to my soul, I am your salvation. Let those be ashamed and dishonored who seek my life. Let those be turned back and humiliated who devise evil against me." The effect of that prayer inspired the delegates with courage to fight against the mightiest nation in the world at that time. It imbued them with the confidence that God was with them and would fight their battles.

When our founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence, four times in that document they made reference to God. He is referred to as the Author "of nature and nature's laws." He is referred to as the Creator who has "endowed us with certain unalienable rights." He is referred to as the Judge "to whom we appeal." And He is referred to as the Divine Providence, on whom they looked to "with a firm reliance on [their] protection."

After the revolutionary war was won, Benjamin Franklin spoke before the assembled delegates in Congress as they deliberated on what kind of government they should form. In that speech he said in part: "In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible to danger, we had daily prayer in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers were heard and they were answered. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessing on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business." His motion was nearly unanimously passed, with only one person objecting. As a result of that vote, to this day, each Congress of the United States begins their session with prayer.

In every instance of our earliest government, religion was an integral part of it. In fact, John Adams, one of our founding fathers, and second President of the United States said, "Our Constitution is designed only for a moral or religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the governing of any other" (emphasis added).

After eight years as President of the United States, George Washington left office. In his farewell address to the nation he said, in part: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports... let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

On July 4, 1776, the Congress of the United States commissioned a committee to design "the Great Seal" of America. This seal was to be a graphic illustration symbolizing those principles which represent what America stands for. There are two drawings that make up the Great Seal of America and they both appear on the back of our current one-dollar bill. We are more familiar with the one of an American bald eagle clutching thirteen arrows in his left talons and an olive branch in his right talons. The second drawing is that of an unfinished pyramid, with a radiating eye at the top in place of the apex of the pyramid with the words Annuit Coeptis written above it.

The meaning of an eye, set in a radiating triangle, placed at the top of an unfinished pyramid, was meant to represent the all-seeing eye of a provident God. The fact that it sits atop an unfinished pyramid illustrates that God alone is the finisher of our nation. The translation of the Latin words Annuit Coeptis written over top of the eye is: "It [referring to the eye of providence] has favored our undertakings." In his official "Remarks and Explanation," Charles Thomson, one of the designers of the Great Seal said that the eye and the motto "allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favour of the American cause." In graphic form this drawing symbolizes a nation under God's watchful care and expresses the idea of "God bless America."

This is the history behind the founding of our country. And it was because of that history that on 25 September 1789, Elias Boudinot, congressman from Burlington, New Jersey, introduced in the United States House of Representatives a resolution "That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States, to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness."

That particular federal Congress passed a bill establishing a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to "Almighty God" for the many favors He had bestowed upon us as a nation. President George Washington signed that bill into law, which designation the fourth Thursday of the month of November for its observance.

From the time of its very discovery, this land was designed to be a Christian nation. As such all of its laws were based upon Christian principles as contained in the Word of God. Today there are those who say that religion should be separate from the affairs of our government, but those who established our nation and were the first to write its laws felt that God was an indispensable, essential, and fundamental part of it. Instead of being separate from God, our founding fathers, with purposeful deliberation and thought, did all in their power to insure they created a union of states that was designed to make us one nation under God.

At this time of thanksgiving, we should take pause and remember why Congress passed a law giving us this day. As Americans, we owe a debt of humble gratitude to Almighty God for the blessing of living in the freest and most prosperous nation in the world. This condition did not happen by accident nor is it the result of mere human reason and effort. It is the direct result of God's provident hand and intervention in the affairs of men. If we, as a nation, fail to recognize that it is God who is preserving us from day to day by His merciful power, we will someday fare no better than the ancient empires of Egypt, Babylon, and Rome. As individuals and as a nation we should never take this blessing for granted. Instead, we should always show reverent appreciation to Him from whom our life, liberty, and happiness truly flows, for this is the reason why Congress established a national day of Thanksgiving.

George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted' for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have show kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d dy of October, A.D. 1789.

(signed) G. Washington

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