TIM WILDMON: America’s long heritage of calls to Thanksgiving



My late colleague and friend Marvin Sanders use to say that the most frustrating day of the year for atheists must be Thanksgiving Day. How to celebrate? This particular holiday is meant for Americans to reflect on God’s blessings of life. It is meant to remind us that we are in the minority of the citizens of earth when it comes to freedom and bounty.

We have a long history of presidential proclamations calling Americans to prayer, thanksgiving and even fasting. George Washington was the first to proclaim a day of thanksgiving on Oct. 3, 1789 writing: “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…”

Later President John Adams proclaimed May 9, 1798: “A day of solemn humiliation, fasting and prayer.” Adams began that proclamation this way: “As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God; and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety, without which social happiness cannot exist, nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed…”

But it was really Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation which set the precedent for America’s national day of thanksgiving. Even in the middle of the Civil War, the year 1863, he cited in his proclamation the many blessings of God on America writing: “They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens …”

Gratitude is a virtue exalted all throughout the Bible. We, as God’s creations, are to recognize His authority over our lives and acknowledge His goodness and loving kindness as demonstrated most notably by what Jesus Christ did for us all on the cross: saving us from the consequences of our sin. Showing gratitude to God and one another also has a way of keeping us humble. We are all weak, frail, sinful human beings in desperate need of an all-powerful, sovereign, supernatural savior who we can trust as having “the whole world in His hands,” and the children’s song goes.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 admonishes us: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Enjoy your family celebration of this special day. Thank a veteran. Thank those who prepare the meal. Thank someone who has helped you down life’s highway. But most of all, remember to thank Almighty God for the blessing of life and for sending Jesus Christ, His Son. To Him be glory and honor and majesty forever and ever amen!

Community columnist Tim Wildmon is a Lee County resident. He is president of the American Family Association, but the column represents his personal opinion unless otherwise noted. Contact him at twildmon@afa.net.

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  • Betsy Chapman

    Thankful Atheist here! I love Thanksgiving! It’s not frustrating for me at all because I recognize that gratitude is a universal expression and is experienced by people of varying faiths and even those who practice no religion. One need not subscribe to Wildmon’s particular brand of Christianity to be thankful for friends, family, food, science, knowledge, experience, the ability to think for one’s self and the insight to recognize the complexities of living in a country that allows for various and sometimes conflicting world views.

    • FrereJocques

      Absolutely! One does not need to belong to ANY organized religion in order to be a good person. Organized religions today are not very much “Christian” at all in some of their policies and doctrine and dogma. A church these days is frequently more of a social register so that people can publicly express, just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, how “righteous” (self-righteous!) they are. And we know what Jesus said about THEM!


    Wouldn’t Thanksgiving be the perfect day to invite that relative, friend, or colleague who may be an atheist to your house to share a meal? Share the blessings.