WHY I GIVE THANKS: Most thankful for gracious gifts of God

Gary Olson
Special to NEW Media

If I were to give you a pop quiz right now and ask you the question, “When is Thanksgiving Day?” I wonder how many of us could give the correct answer? Some of you may be thinking — do you mean the “exact” date? Not really, because the date varies from year to year. Everyone could say, “I know it is a Thursday in November,” which is correct, but which Thursday?

Even if you guessed the exact date, which this year happens to be Nov. 23, you still wouldn’t give me the answer that I am looking for. The official Thanksgiving Day goes all the way back to 1789 when George Washington, the first president of the United States, proclaimed Nov. 26 as a day of Thanksgiving to celebrate our independence.

After that, Thanksgiving Day continued to be celebrated on different days in different states until finally in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a White House proclamation calling on ”the whole American people to observe a special day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November of every year.” After that, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a bill marking the fourth Thursday of each November as the official Thanksgiving Day.

When President Lincoln wrote that proclamation in October 1863, he stated that our lives are filled with so many blessings it’s important for us to pause and recognize the source of those blessings. He goes on to state that they are gifts from the “most high God” who is generous beyond compare even though we don’t deserve any of it.

So maybe the most important question isn’t when is Thanksgiving, but rather what is Thanksgiving? Is it the day you drive several hours to spend time with family members that you only see once a year? Maybe when you think of Thanksgiving, your thoughts turn to your deer stand and those family members will just have to wait.

So when you think of Thanksgiving, what are you actually thankful for? I am grateful for a wonderful family; my two amazing daughters and a wonderful wife, and I’m also grateful for the time I have to spend with them this year. I’m thankful for a great community and the people who live here. What I’m the most thankful for each and every day is the relationship I have with the Creator of the Universe who came down to earth to save His people.

To give thanks means to acknowledge the thoughts, efforts, and actions that you have received from another. Maybe you have thanked a waitress when you receive good service, or maybe you’ve thanked a doctor who helped you through an illness or a teacher for their efforts to help you learn a skill. Those examples are easy to see in our day to day lives and might make it easier to recognize who provided the action we received.

The question is who do we thank for a beautiful sunrise, or that amazing northern lights display. Who should we give thanks to for life, breath and everything else? Lincoln nailed it right on the head when he said we need to set aside a day to give thanks for the “gracious gifts of the God Most High.”

That’s what I’m most thankful for. Although I have many relationships in my life that bring me happiness, joy, and peace, the thing I’m most thankful for is my relationship with the creator of the universe, or as Abraham Lincoln said it, “The God most high.”

The Rev. Gary Olson is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Oconto Falls.