Thursday, November 16, 2023

The First Thanksgiving in America


Why We Give Thanks

Despite the challenges we as a nation face politically, economically, and culturally, we are still blessed to live in the United States of America. Thanksgiving Day is coming soon when Americans gather with family and friends to enjoy a bountiful feast. Many today have forgotten the  true meaning of Thanksgiving Day, calling it Turkey Day. As Christians, we celebrate by thanking God for the many blessings He has bestowed upon us individually and as a nation.

The Apostle Paul faced many challenges, yet he knew the importance of giving thanks to God. He reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to

The Pilgrims too faced many hardships in the year leading up to their first Thanksgiving celebration. Some public school textbooks tell children that the Pilgrims were giving thanks to the Indians, but in his historical work, Of Plymouth Plantation, penned by Governor William Bradford, the leader of the Pilgrims described what really happened:

The Pilgrims' journey began in Holland. They had left England, where they had no religious freedom, to settle in Holland, where they were free to worship God as they pleased. But there, the culture was so corrupt they made plans to go to the New World to build a community based on biblical principles for their children.

Governor Bradford wrote, "Last and not least, they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least making some ways toward it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work."

The journey to America on the Mayflower was unbelievably miserable. Bradford described how 102 Pilgrims were crammed into a space the size of a volleyball court for 66 days at sea with little light and no fresh air since all the hatches had to be battened down due to stormy weather. Can you imagine the stench? Their diet consisted of dried pork, dried peas, and dried fish.

They arrived in New England late in the fall of 1620 just in time to prepare for winter. During that first winter, 47 of the 102 Pilgrims died. Only three families remained unbroken by death. Yet, they were thankful even though their daily rations at times consisted of only one kernel of corn.

That spring, the Indians befriended then, showing them how to plant maize and fertilize it with fish. When a drought threatened to destroy the crops, they fell on their knees and prayed until God sent rain.

The First Thanksgiving Courtesy
The proclamation of the first Thanksgiving came as a result of their first bountiful harvest. The Pilgrims were overflowing with gratitude to God because the harvest of 1621 provided more than enough corn to see them through their second winter.

Indian Chief Massasoit brought 90 Indians with him to the feast, arriving a day early. The Pilgrims despaired that they would not have enough to feed that many without dangerously diminishing their winter supply of food.

As it turned out, the Indians had come early to hunt and contribute to the feast. They provided five dressed deer and more than a dozen fat wild turkeys--enough food to extend the celebration to three days.

The Pilgrims were able to rejoice and remain hopeful even in the midst of death and privation because they knew their lives served a greater, eternal purpose. When we know and follow Jesus Christ, our lives too have that same eternal purpose. That alone gives us a reason to rejoice and be thankful, no matter what our outward circumstances may be.


Psalm 69:30 encourages us to "magnify the Lord with thanksgiving." A magnifying glass makes objects seem bigger to us. Thanksgiving makes God bigger to us--it makes us see Him better, see His ability to supply all our needs. When we thank Him for what He has done for us in the past, our faith is built up to know He will meet our needs today. Before you enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner, pause to give thanks to our Heavenly Father for His blessings to you this year.

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