No, Thanksgiving isn’t an official holiday of Uganda, Ethiopia, or Kenya, but the idea of giving thanks is not strictly an American one either. In agricultural societies since the beginning of time, harvest festivals celebrated the provision of the ‘gods’ who made their crops grow. In the bible, we read that the Jewish people held several feasts, some in dedication to God for the provision that would come (like the Feast of Firstfruits), and others after the harvest actually produced what was promised (like the Feast of Tabernacles).
While it’s true that giving thanks isn’t a uniquely American tradition, the formalization and celebration of it arguably is. Ever since our forefathers commenced a 3-day celebration with the Wampanoag Native Americans during the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621, there has been some kind of special commemoration of thanks, usually accompanied with lots of food, drink, and dance.
Today around the world and in many countries in Africa, folks will borrow from the American holiday of Thanksgiving, and use it as a reason to gather with friends and family to celebrate and give thanks. Many will give thanks for generic blessings, others for material provisions and the love found in family, but let us not forget the most important aspect of Thanksgiving – the object of our thanks.
We can thank each other for making the long road trip for the holidays, or thank the barista for our Peppermint Mocha latte, but Thanksgiving thanks goes far beyond the service we receive at a restaurant or the barbershop. Our thanks at this time of year – and, as it should be, all times of year – is rooted in the great love of our Savior, Jesus Christ, “who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Without Jesus the Son considering it a joy that He might go to the cross on our behalf, in obedience to the Father, all the thanks we could muster would be superficial and temporary at best.
When we celebrate Thanksgiving, we’re not merely grateful to have a roof over our head and food in our bellies. We’re not merely appreciative of a paycheck that allows us to clothe our kiddos or provide warmth on a cold night to family and friends. No, the underlying idea of giving thanks is so much larger than the Macy’s parade (which we love), or the endless football we can watch this special Thursday of the year. The giving thanks of which we speak is all-encompassing, over-arching, and all-reaching…there is no part of our lives it doesn’t touch. Somewhere in the deep recesses of our consciousness, we innately acknowledge that all of the emotional, physical, and material blessings we possess, these “things” for which we give thanks, are derivative of Someone outside of ourselves, Someone in control of it all, Someone far more worthy and powerful and awesome than we are. This Someone is indeed the object of our thanks, whether or not we know who that Someone actually is.
This fourth Thursday in November, literally billions across the globe will partake in the American holiday of Thanksgiving. They will put their own spin on it, but they will celebrate with loved ones and pay homage to that for which they’re thankful. The amazing truth of the Scriptures, of the Gospel of Jesus, is that HE is in fact the “that” for which we all give thanks, in all circumstances, in all places, and at all times. He is the Supreme Object of our thanks. May we, with all humility, acknowledge Him as such today.