Materially speaking, the United States and Canada are undoubtedly two of the most blessed nations, in history. Never have two nations risen to such dizzying heights of prosperity and technological advancement. Truly we live in "bountiful lands" — but have we forgotten the source of those blessings? Will we acknowledge the one who made it all possible?
It is generally agreed that the first Thanksgiving in the United States occurred when the Pilgrims held a three-day festival to commemorate the harvest of 1621. The festival was ordered by governor William Bradford. It was not until 1660, however, that the harvest festival became a regular annual event in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. George Washington proclaimed November 26, 1789 the first national day of Thanksgiving. By mid-nineteenth century most of the northern states had adopted the custom. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national harvest festival on November 26, 1863. From that time on, Thanksgiving Day has been a national holiday proclaimed annually in the United States by the President and by the governor of each state. This year, Thanksgiving will be observed November 22 in the United States, and on October 8 in Canada, (Canada's historical Thanksgiving tradition is somewhat different than that of the United States, but the essential meaning of the day is the same.)
Originally, the meaning of Thanksgiving had to do with the fall harvest. All of the appropriate fall symbolism was present — pumpkins, turkey with all the trimmings, and harvest colors of orange and brown. While much of the symbolism remains the same today, the meaning of Thanksgiving has extended far beyond the harvest itself. Today's Thanksgiving, ideally, should be a grateful acknowledgement of the multiple blessings bestowed upon these neighbor nations all year round. Never in history have two peoples been so blessed in every significant respect as have the United States and Canada. Geographically, Canada is the second largest nation in the world — next only to the Soviet Union. It covers a territory of some 3,851,000 square miles and is rich in mineral and natural resources. Canada has booming industries in motor vehicle manufacturing, petroleum refining, pulp and paper production, slaughtering and meat production, iron and steel production and other smaller but proportionately prosperous endeavors. Fishing is also a major Canadian industry. And Canadian grain is sold to most major nations, including China and the Soviet Union. With a population of only 24,000,000, Canada is a veritable cornucopia of food and natural resources.
The United States is the most technologically advanced nation in the world. It is also the richest. If you include all 50 states, the United States encompasses a land area of some 3,615,000 square miles. Her population is approximately ten times that of Canada, but there is still plenty of room for everyone (except, perhaps; in some of the overcrowded urban areas). In the United States, the median family income is more than $16,000 annually. Labor-saving devices abound in both Canada and the United States due to technological advancement and mass production. With about five percent of the world's population, the United States consumes about 30 percent of the world's energy. According to The Wall Street Journal (May I, 1979), "This may come as a surprise. But the United States still enjoys the highest standard of living — by far — of any major industrial country." Just how long that will last is anyone's guess. President Carter is experiencing great anxiety over the nation's energy and economic problems. Something must be done to cut the use of energy so long as the major industrial nations are dependent upon fossil fuels — a nonrenewable resource. Once the oil is gone, it's gone. Alternative fuels must be found, and found fast. Inflation is another major worry. In the United States, inflation has been surpassing the rise in wages by a considerable amount for some years. The purchasing power of the average American dollar is getting less and less each year. In this regard, today's dollar is worth only 50 cents compared to the dollar of 1969. And now the government of the United States has announced a recession. Things are slowing down. Some financial prognosticators are concerned about a possible full-scale depression if something is not done to shore up the sagging dollar. And something has to be done about inflation and the squandering of natural resources and fossil fuels. But who will do it? Who will make the first move? Is it all up to the President and his cabinet? Can we blame the present government for the erosion of national blessings? "America the bountiful" could become "America the bankrupt" if we do not soon learn to use more wisely the incredible national blessings we have been granted.
The Meaning of Thanksgiving
That brings us to the meaning of Thanksgiving. While this national festival is not of biblical origin, it does tie in with clear biblical principles. In taking stock of the national blessings of Canada and the United States, it is important to keep two principles in mind: 1) the importance of gratitude, and 2) the biblical principle of stewardship. The United States has been called "one nation under God" and its coinage reads "in God we trust." Canadians sing "God save the Queen." God, it seems, is an official part of American and Canadian patriotism. But is God in the thoughts and hearts of the people? Is God really seen as the one in whom "we live, and move, and have our being"? (Acts 17:28.) We are instructed in the Psalms: "Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise" (Psalms 95:2). In Psalm 100 we read: "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, bless his name!" (Verse 4.) It is to God, not to conventional economic wisdom, that we should give thanks for the bounteous national blessings bestowed upon these great countries. It is God who blesses with material prosperity. "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts" (Haggai 2:8).
The Principle of Stewardship
All that is belongs to God. What we have, we have been allowed to use — ideally to His glory and honor. For what we have been given, and it is much, we should be grateful. But the fact that we have been given so much implies great responsibility toward God. It should involve a sense of stewardship toward what we have been given. A "steward," according to the dictionary, is "a person who manages another's property or financial affairs, or who administers anything as the agent of another or others" (The Random House Dictionary of the English Language). God has given us, in America and Canada, an inordinately large share of the earth's bounty — of His wealth. As the recipients of these vast national blessings, we have a duty of stewardship toward God. We have a duty first to be grateful for what we have received in trust; and secondly, we have a duty to use that wealth to glorify God. To greedily squander the national blessings bestowed upon us by God is to treat lightly those magnificent national blessings, and it is to insult our Creator! The time of squandering and abuse should have long been over. There is a thin line between prosperity and poverty. The difference is responsible usage. As economic and energy problems mount, we should be sobered by the reality that we may soon become one of the "have-not" nations of the world. A national lesson can be derived from Jesus' own teaching on responsible stewardship. Speaking of His own ministers who have been set over the household of God (the Church), Jesus said: "Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing.... But if that servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful" (Luke 12:42-46). It is the responsibility of those in power over the nation and its resources to see that those blessings are doled out in "their portion" and at the "proper time." It is the duty of all of us as consumers to exercise responsibility in the usage of these national blessings and resources. It is a time to conserve and to use wisely — not a time to squander recklessly those magnificent bounties bestowed upon us by our Creator. If we continue to be irresponsible in the usage of our national blessings, as we have been, then we will undoubtedly lose them. As the apostle Paul told the Corinthians: "Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy" (I Corinthians 4:2). Have presidents, congressmen, and citizens alike been proven trustworthy in the use of national blessings? Have we used those blessings wisely and judiciously? If we had done so, would we be in the present economic pickle? Would we have an energy crisis? Probably not.
As Thanksgiving Day approaches in both Canada and the United States, perhaps it is high time to take stock and consider just how responsible we have been, as peoples, over the wealth God has bestowed upon our nations. It is time to consider the sheer magnificence of our national blessings, and the possibility of losing them. If our peoples would turn to God in faith and in gratitude, perhaps we could be bailed out of the current difficulties. While our problems are serious, they don't have to be terminal. God could save us from the consequences of past greed and irresponsibility. He could forgive us and pros: per us once again. But it will only happen if we turn to Him, begin to use our blessings rightly, and follow the admonition of the apostle Paul: "Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6).