By Virginia S. Saunders
WE ALL KNOW WELL the deliverance from starvation experienced by the English pilgrims in the 1620s when Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts became the edge of hell and salvation for this courageous band of pioneers who fled religious persecution in England and Holland, and found deliverance in a new continent.
We are familiar with how they survived the worst of winter, having lost half of their kins in their tumultuous journey at sea, and struggled through another year of harsh winter in a foreign land. Only prayers, and a desire to govern themselves that brought about the Mayflower Compact, gave them the fervor to survive the challenges.
After a year of hard work, tilling and cultivating the land with the help of native Indians, they became self sufficient enough to harvest what they planted, and in a moment of gratitude to the Almighty, they proclaimed a thanksgiving feast. Both pioneers and Indians celebrated the first Thanksgiving Day.
But perhaps not many Americans realize what followed in the ensuing centuries. America’s thanksgiving day would not be what it is today, had not President Abraham Lincoln experienced a conversion of heart.
Walking through the graves of Gettysburg where 60,000 men had been buried after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, Lincoln, a non-Christian, was touched by the Holy Spirit. He wrote to a friend:
“When I left Springfield to assume the Presidency, I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ.”
It was in November 1863 when that happened, and after his historic Gettysburg Address, came his November Thanksgiving Proclamation, officially setting the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day. President Lincoln was responding to a one-woman campaign by Mrs. Sarah Joseph Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, who promoted a just cause for 30 years – calling for a US president to declare an official Thanksgiving Day.
Prior to this, Thanksgiving Day was a moveable feast. Mrs. Hale wanted a calendared feast. In 1798 President George Washington declared a day of thanksgiving under its new constitution. Each state celebrated Thanksgiving Day at different days. It was only in 1941 when the US Congress permanently declared the fourth Thursday as a national holiday.
There are four other countries in the world that celebrate Thanksgiving Day – Canada, Puerto Rico, Liberia, and Norfolk Island. During the American Revolution, many who were loyal to England moved to Canada but continued to celebrate Thanksgiving Day there on the second Monday of October. Puerto Rico, a US territory, celebrates it on the fourth Thursday of November. Liberia, a country founded by African Americans who believed that former slaves in the United States would be better off living in Africa, also celebrates Thanksgiving Day on the first Thursday of November. The last one is Norfolk Island, a former British penal colony and now an Australian territory. Thanksgiving tradition was started by an American trader, Isaac Robinson, who worked for Burns Philp & Co. Ltd., and later became an American consul in Norfolk Island in the 1890s. Norfolk Island celebrates Thanksgiving Day on the last Wednesday of November.
What happened to President Lincoln was a conversion that can only be traced to the action of the Holy Spirit, for that is His work – spiritual transformation. He transforms hearts. It came just in time, because President Lincoln was going through some of the most tumultuous crises in the country’s history, periods that required utmost wisdom.
What are the odds that the Holy Spirit will also transform our current president – a moslem? If that happens, Thanksgiving Day will no longer be a facetious ritual of pardoning a turkey and giving it a new lease on life, as he did a few days ago, even jokingly making the sign of the cross on a turkey. Instead, it would be the president himself who will be thanking God for his new lease on life.
Our founding fathers were wise and were given the Grace to give God what He is due – the praise and worship and gratitude for guiding this nation and its leadership through uncharted territories. Countries are gifts from God who gave leaders the authority to govern it properly. The Bible said God is the maker and divider of nations. What makes America unique is that its founding fathers considered subservience to Christ as its moral and spiritual foundation for a constitutional government. And for more than two hundred years it has been a country moving under that direction, inspite of some individual rebellion. More than the turkey, more than the pumpkin pies, more than all the accoutrements of a calendared thanksgiving day, this God-centered government is a good reason for thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving Day to you and your families, as I go cook my turkey now.
By Virginia S. Saunders
November 27, 2014
First posted on http://virginiasaunders.authorsxpress.com/2014/11/27/thanksgiving-day-a-conversion-of-heart/