I love the Thanksgiving holiday that we celebrate in America on the last Thursday in November. Jodi sets a magnificent table and our children gather with their children. Food, family, and football are the usual American components to celebrate the day.
In addition, it marks a time to reflect on our blessings over the past year which includes giving thanks for the good things provided, and giving thanks for the bad things that we have been spared from. It is also a time to consider ways to help our neighbors and share with those less fortunate in our community and around the world.
I love Thanksgiving, but sad to say, I am not always thankful. It seems like a cliché, yet pausing to count our blessings and reflect on the gifts provided is one of our greatest privileges as humans in a life well lived. The author G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) said, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”
The Bible has a lot to say about thanksgiving, mentioning it nearly 140 times. In the book of Psalms alone, we are told over 30 times to “be thankful” and “give thanks unto the Lord.” Psalm 92:1 says, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High.” Nineteen out of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament mention the need for thanksgiving. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
Regardless of the hardships we may face in life, we can be thankful for the good things God provides. And it is always helpful for me to consider the circumstances of the Pilgrims when they celebrated the event we now call “Thanksgiving.” When we think of that first thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims, we might assume it occurred during the first year of their residency here after their arrival in 1620. In fact, we know they did have a 3-day feast in the fall of 1621 where wild fowl and venison were served. A letter by Edward Winslow is the only surviving description of the event itself. The hard winter months that followed brought extraordinary suffering and even more deaths to the small band of Pilgrims.
But the first real extended thanksgiving celebration took place a full three years after their arrival in 1620. Those three years were filled with much hardship, toil and suffering. Their days were spent combating sickness, drought, inner conflicts, and the elements. But it wasn’t all bad news. The Native Americans had taught the settlers how to plant corn, fish for cod, hunt for game, and skin beavers for coats. They had planted gardens, built a blockhouse for their protection, houses for their own comfort, and a meetinghouse to worship God.
Just when things seemed to take a turn for the better, they again got worse. In the summer of 1623, a drought threatened to destroy their vital crops. So the colonists prayed and fasted for relief. When the rains came a few days later, disaster was averted, and their crops were saved. Not long after, Captain Miles Standish arrived with staples and news that a Dutch supply ship was on its way. Because of all these blessings and answered prayers, the Pilgrims held a day of thanksgiving and praise. This 1623 event appears to have been the origin of our Thanksgiving Day because it combined a religious and social celebration. It was a time for expressing gratitude to God and sharing with their Indian neighbors. Governor Bradford made the following proclamation:
“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.
Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meetinghouse, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”
The provisions for that thanksgiving feast included: “twelve tasty venisons, besides others, pieces of roasted venison, fruit pies, roasted wild turkeys, plums, nuts, grapes, corn, popcorn, vegetables of all types, fish, roast pork, etc. But before all this, the first course was served: on an empty plate in front of each person were five kernels of corn. . .lest anyone should forget” (the hardship of the previous winters.)
“Lest anyone should forget.” Like Chesterton said, “the critical thing in life is whether we take things for granted, or with gratitude.” Happy Thanksgiving!