“Thanksgiving” has come to be more of a “holiday” or “celebrated tradition” more than a way of life for most. Sad to say, it isn’t a true reflection of our attitude in living and it isn’t usually a true expression of a genuine thankfulness, gratefulness, and appreciation to God, and others, in our “everyday life”. It doesn’t even seem to really be very important or acknowledged any other time of year, even among ‘believers’. But as you observe the history of the Pilgrims, and the “first Thanksgiving”, you will see it was their genuine thankfulness of heart in their every day living that produced the very first Thanksgiving. It was a sincere desire to express their gratitude and joy, not an attempt to establish some type of tradition or ritual to be followed.
The history of the Pilgrims is truly inspiring, for they were a people that lived a life of thanksgiving unto God…and they certainly endured much harsher conditions than anyone I personally know. Yet, they were not regretful-nor complaining. They remained truly thankful in all things, totally trusting God for their future and depending upon Him for everything. These people chose to journey to this land believing it was the will of God for them. A land where they would be free to worship Him in a way they believed in their heart was true. A land where they could raise their children to serve and honor GOD and His Word, rather than continue under the “bondage of the ‘Church of England’”, which they believed was heresy. This love for God and devotion for Him that they held in their heart produced a determination in them that held them steadfast—even under the most devastating and fatal conditions. I believe it was Yahweh (YHWH) that provided the grace they needed to produce the courage, patience, longsuffering, and endurance that was so evident in their lives. I believe God’s pure love naturally produced thankful hearts and thankful living. The First Thanksgiving During the first year that the Pilgrims lived here, they suffered many hard things. They landed in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on November 21, 1620 (they later scouted out land suitable to build a colony, which they named Plymouth). New England winters are cold and snowy, and their food supply was limited. They had to wait until spring to plant crops. Even the animals took shelter, so there was little game for the hunters that first winter. They also had to build a ‘Common House’ that would have to be a house, fort, and ‘church building’ for all 102 Pilgrims that winter. Many became sick, and at one time there were only 7 strong enough to care for the rest that were sick. By spring, half of the Pilgrims had died. Yet, when the Mayflower sailed back to England in April 1621—not one Pilgrim returned with it.
That spring, God sent some ‘Indians’ (Native Americans) to help the remaining Pilgrims learn to plant crops, fish, and hunt more effectively in the “different” land they had come to. They were also able to build some individual homes that spring. The Pilgrims were so thankful for God’s mercy during their first hard year, that on November 21, 1621, after the crops had been harvested- they set aside a special time for giving thanks to God and feasting. They had over 90 Indians join in their celebration. It lasted for 3 days! They hunted, gathered berries, cooked, played games, and the Bible was read out loud for everyone to hear (including the Indians that joined them). The Pilgrims and the Indians offered prayers and thanks unto God.
In a letter to a friend in England, Edward Winslow, one of the Pilgrims, described the first Thanksgiving:
Our corn did prove well, and, GOD be praised, wehad a good increase of Indian corn…Our harvestbeing gotten in, our governor sent four men onfowling, that so we might after a more specialmanner rejoice together after we had gathered thefruit of our labors…And although it be not alwaysso plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet, bythe goodness of GOD, we are so far from want thatwe often wish you partakers of our plenty. *Interesting Tidbits:
The first Thanksgiving, they ate deer and fish as well as turkey; and among all the corn, pumpkins, berries and nuts, they had popcorn!
The Second Thanksgiving of 1623I know this has been lengthy, but I couldn’t speak of the history of Thanksgiving without mentioning the second Thanksgiving of 1623. It really touches me to see their dependence on God and their faith that prayer would make a difference…and it DID. What a witness and testimony to the Indians, as well as to US!
Although the previous winter had been damp, the summer of 1623 was so dry that it soon seemed as if the Pilgrims’ crops would perish for lack of rain. The Pilgrims set aside a special day for prayer and fasting, and for nine hours they prayed to God for help. Some Indians, hearing that the Pilgrims were going to pray for rain, watched the sky to see what would happen. When the sky finally clouded over and a gentle rain began to fall, the Indians remarked in awe-stricken tones that the God of the white man had heard the white man’s prayers. Ten days of rain followed this day of prayer, and the crops were saved. The Pilgrims were so grateful for God’s mercy that they again set aside a special time of thanksgiving. At each plate they placed five kernels of corn, so no one would forget God’s provision during their time of great lack and need.
Thanksgiving didn’t become a national holiday until Abraham Lincoln declared it in 1863, during the War Between the States (the Civil War). Four other presidents had denied it, but a lady named Sarah Hale was very persistent in writing and petitioning each president (for 38 years!) to see that the whole nation would celebrate Thanksgiving on the same day every year. In those years, Thanksgiving had almost been abandoned altogether. Thanks to the perseverance of Sarah Hale, and the honorable heart of President Abraham Lincoln, Thanksgiving is now a national holiday.
I hope you have been as touched and inspired as I have, and hopefully your personal celebration of this holiday will be enriched as you reflect on its beginnings as well as the hearts of those who first celebrated unto Yahweh; our great God and Creator.