The Story of Thanksgiving

In my pursuit of preventing Thanksgiving from becoming just another self-absorbed day of feasting, I sought out to find a brief summary of the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving without the Christian perspective being removed. The story below can be read in a few minutes around the dinner table. It retells the first Thanksgiving story. It maintains the faith narrative. It is not original to me as I have copied and pasted from multiple sources. This has been read at the Pittman house before our Thanksgiving dinner the last two years. I hope it’s a resource you might be able to use with your family. The Word document version is available to download at the bottom of this post.

In 1614, Captain Thomas Hunt captured several Indians in the New World, including one named Squanto, to be sold into slavery in Spain. A Spanish monk purchased Squanto’s freedom, taught him English, and introduced him to Jesus Christ. In 1619 Squanto returned to his native land, only to find his tribe wiped out by an epidemic.

Around the same time, a group called the Separatists fled from England to Holland to find religious freedom. Unfortunately they also found poverty, grueling work hours, and a secular culture that threatened to undo the values they had carefully instilled into their children. In 1620, they sold everything and indentured themselves for seven years to finance their journey to America.

On the Mayflower, the Separatists were joined by those seeking the new land for other reasons; these they called the Strangers. The two groups, 102 altogether, were called the Pilgrims. Their journey across the Atlantic ocean lasted nine weeks. In one of those “accidents” which change the course of history, the ship lost its course and landed far north of its destination at what we now call Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Once outside the territory covered by the King’s Charter, the Pilgrims became responsible for their own government, and so they forged the birth certificate of this nation in the hull of the Mayflower by stating their purpose. We call it the Mayflower Compact. And in it they wrote, “in the name of God, Amen. We do plant this colony for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.”

Never in the history of the world had a nation been established for those reasons. They came here, not just for religious liberty, but to practice the dictates of their Christian conscience. This is their words, “For the propagating of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the remotest parts of the world. Yeah but we be just stepping stones unto others for the performing of such great a task.”

In late 1620, they began their new life at the place they named Plymouth. After a prayer service, the Pilgrims began building hasty shelters. It was a devastating winter – whipped with wind and sleet and snow. Unprepared for the harsh New England winter, half the Pilgrims died. Still the Separatists clung to their faith; not one chose to return to England with the Mayflower that spring.

Spring brought unexpected relief with the help of a generous Christian brother – Squanto. He taught them how to grow corn, use fertilizer, stalk deer, and catch fish. William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth, wrote of Squanto that he was “a special instrument sent of God for good beyond their expectations.”

And so their first harvest was good. Governor Bradford proclaimed a day of celebration and thanksgiving to God, and the Pilgrims invited their Indian friends. Ninety members of the tribe came, along with Squanto, bearing venison and wild turkeys for all to share. Together the Pilgrims and the Indians feasted, played games, ran races, and showed their prowess with bow and arrow and musket.

Pilgrim Edward Winslow described the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving in these words. “Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling so that we might, after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as…served the company almost a week… Many of the Indians came amongst us and…whom for three days we entertained and feasted… And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God we are…far from want.” And that was the first Thanksgiving.

In 1789, President George Washington issued the a federal Thanksgiving proclamation, declaring in part. “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. . . . Now, therefore, I do appoint Thursday, the 26th day of November 1789 . . . that we may all unite to render unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection.”

As Americans, we celebrate Thanksgiving each year, retaining the original gratefulness to God displayed by the Pilgrims and many other founding fathers, and remember that it is to those early and courageous Pilgrims that we owe not only the traditional Thanksgiving holiday but also the concepts of self-government, “hard-work” ethic, self-reliant communities, and devout religious faith.

The Story of Thanksgiving (word doc)

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