Of the 195 nations of the world, only a relative handful observe a day set aside annually for giving thanks, including the U.S., Canada, Germany, Liberia, and South Korea.
The U.S. observance dates back to the earliest 17th-century settlers. So President George Washington was furthering an existing tradition when he issued the first National Thanksgiving Proclamation declaring November 26, 1789, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "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 signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."
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...
Thanksgiving Day, however, didn't become an annual American observance until decades later. In 1863, at the height of the terrible Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln encouraged citizens "to observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens." An official day of Thanksgiving (now observed on the fourth Thursday of November) has been celebrated in the U.S. ever since.
President Lincoln stressed in his 1863 proclamation that, despite the trouble and pain in our fallen world, there is yet hope because of the Lord's mercy — and there is much for which we can be thankful.
The Old Testament book of Lamentations speaks of that same reality. As its title suggests, Lamentations isn't a happy book! The author (possibly Jeremiah) recounts the calamities that have befallen the nation of Judah ("All who pass along the way...hiss and wag their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem...") and that have driven him nearly to despair ("I am the man who has seen affliction...").
Yet, his heart is stirred to lift up an affirmation of praise and trust even amid his great lament.
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
"The Lord is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him."
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
(Lamentations 3:19-25 ESV)
This Thanksgiving, especially if this has been a challenging year for you, remember those hopeful words from Lamentations 3 — and be thankful to "our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens," the "Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be."