As Christians, we are, by God's redemptive work of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, supernaturally transferred from the domain of darkness into the Kingdom of the Son of God. Therefore, we are commanded by Christ our Lord, to be the light of the world—to be holy (that is, set apart) from the enslaving, self-indulgent deeds of this world. We have been freed to live holy, upright and self-controlled lives—filled with the Holy Spirit—bearing good fruit in the name of our Lord Jesus (Titus 1:8, Col 1:10-14).
"Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."
-1 Corinthians 9:25-27, ESV
According to our Father God, there ought to be an unmistakable difference between the way holy children of God live their lives and how the children of the world live their lives. This doesn't mean however, that Christians can't and shouldn't enjoy a hearty and lovely Thanksgiving celebration with family, friends and strangers. What it does mean is that a Christian's Thanksgiving ought to be founded and filled with love, gratitude, and humility toward God Almighty for all His goodness to us, rather than be an occasion where gluttony is celebrated.
So how does one go about making a Christian's Thanksgiving look unmistakably different from the Thanksgiving of unbelievers? That's coming up, but before I share the practical applications of this biblical perspective, I'd like to take a short excursion into the past.
The 'First' Thanksgiving
There are many arguments about when the "first" Thanksgiving celebration took place. Did it take place by the first settlers of our country (the Pilgrims), in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621, or was it established by our country's first President, George Washington in 1789? The answer is...yes. Though the Pilgrims did not officially have a name for their three-days of feasting and celebrating, this occasion was specifically held as a time to give thanks to Almighty God who endured them through much hardships (including many deaths) during their first year in the New World.
In 1789, President George Washington made an official proclamation for our country "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". This was to take place on Thursday, November 26, 1789 (read the full proclamation here). Unfortunately, this proclamation waned as the American people forgot that it was by God's gracious and merciful hand that they prospered, won wars and could freely worship Him as He commanded (much like the Israelites did after God freed them from slavery in Egypt).
Thankfully, exactly 74 years later (to the day, on October 3) President Abraham Lincoln made another proclamation to the people of our country to observe a day of, "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens" (read full proclamation here). Lincoln's proclamation was different from Washington's in that Lincoln suggested a day of Thanksgiving to be observed on the last Thursday of November, annually, rather than on a single, designated day. Lincoln's proclamation was observed every year by Presidents that came after him. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill designating every fourth Thursday of November to be our nations official day of Thanksgiving.
Now, back to the present. How do we, as children of light, celebrate this day of Thanksgiving in a way that's notably different from the way children of darkness celebrate it? For starters, don't plan on making a meal you can't handle. We all have limits and we need to be wise enough to know what our limits are so we're not unkind and/or arrogant towards others (Prov 14:8). Next, begin the night before by reminding your hearts who God is and what He has done for you by reading Deuteronomy 8; Psalms 5, 9:1-2, 27, 40, 103, 116:5-14, 145; Jeremiah 9:23-24; Luke 11:27-28; Acts 4:13; Romans 6; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 2:3-4; 1 John 2:15-17 and 4:9-12. Then prepare a short devotional to share with those God has blessed you with to celebrate this day of Thanksgiving. Include a hymn or another song of praise to our great and awesome God during this devotional time. Make sure not to choose a song where people will have to do vocal acrobats in order to keep up with the melody. Choose a song of praise and thanksgiving that exalts the name of Christ and can be sung by even a five-year-old.
As you prepare and bring your festive and delicious foods to the table, rather than play the martyr and do it all yourself, select a few helpers (young and old) to set the table and bring out the scrumptious feast for all to enjoy. Once everyone is seated, the head of the household should ask everyone to hold hands, and offer a humble and heartfelt thanks to God for the abundance of His goodness in Christ Jesus and the magnificent gifts we've receive through Him. As plates are being filled, beginning with the oldest person at the table (because you want wisdom to lead) have everyone share what they're most thankful for this season. Encourage your guests to share Scripture verses as they speak about God's goodness to them.
After this time of sharing thanksgiving and praise for God's awesome deeds in the lives of those sitting around your table; delight in conversations that are holy, gracious, appropriate and honorable. Refrain from conversations that include lewd and inappropriate/degrading jokes and other forms of irreverent babble (Eph 4:25, 29-32 and 5:4). If there are some in your gathering that engage in the latter, don't be afraid to lovingly ask them to stop and continue to encourage godly conversations so that everyone might enjoy this time together (Prov 27:5-6).
Once the main meal has been eaten and everyone is enjoying delectable desserts, read a verse or passage of Scripture (like the ones I suggested above, or one that's near and dear to your heart). Then invite everyone to play games, watch football, and/or simply enjoy the goodness of God and the gift of fellowship.
Be sure to keep an eye and prayerful heart out for anyone in your midst who needs a warm hug, a loving ear, biblical counsel, etc.
Whatever you do, whether you take any of my suggestions, or have many God-honoring, Christ-exalting traditions of your own, remember it's not about the food (or you), it's about God and the people He's brought into your home. Resolve to love God and others well, so that your Thanksgiving celebration will be a holy, acceptable, and a cheerful offering to God our Father.
"Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart."Happy Thanksgiving!
-Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, ESV