Thanksgiving for me the last 40 years has centered around Terri’s home-spun palate pleasing feasts reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting that would make Paula Dean jealous!
The beauty of Thanksgiving, however, is more than a meal. The roots of our nation’s own season of Thanksgiving seems to have been forgotten and disparaged by not a few. Thus, the importance of sharing our American story of blessing and Thanksgiving with each generation.
The Pilgrims set sail for America on Sept. 6, 1620, and for two months, braved the harsh elements of a storm-tossed sea. Upon disembarking at Plymouth Rock, a prayer service was held, however, unprepared for such a harsh New England winter, nearly half of them died before spring.
Emerging from that grueling winter, the Pilgrims were surprised when an American Indian named Samoset approached them and greeted them in their own language, explaining to them that he had learned English from fishermen and traders.
A week later, Samoset returned with a friend named Squanto, who lived with the Pilgrims and accepted their Christian faith. Pilgrim Governor William Bradford described Squanto as “a special instrument sent of God for our good and never left us till he died.”
That summer, the Pilgrims, still persevering in prayer and assisted by helpful American Indians, reaped a bountiful harvest. As Pilgrim Edward Winslow affirmed, “God be praised, we had a good increase of [American] Indian corn”; “by the goodness of God, we are...far from want.”
The grateful Pilgrims therefore declared a three-day feast in December 1621 to thank God and to celebrate with their American Indian friends…America’s first Thanksgiving Festival.
America’s first national Thanksgiving occurred in 1789 with the commencement of the federal government. According to the Congressional Record, the first act after the framers completed the framing of the Bill of Rights was that Mr. Elias Boudinot said he could not think of letting the session pass without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining with one voice in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings He had poured down upon them.
That congressional resolution was delivered to President George Washington, who heartily concurred with the request and issued the first 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...that we may all unite to render unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection.”
In 1779, President Jefferson declared, “I, Thomas Jefferson, appoint a day of public Thanksgiving to the Almighty God and to ask Him that He would pour out His Holy Spirit on all ministers of the Gospel; that He would spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth;...and that He would establish these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue.”
Years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set aside Thursday, the 13th day of November 1933, to be a Day of Thanksgiving for the nation. May we, on that day in our churches and in our homes, “give humble thanks for the blessings bestowed upon us during the year past by Almighty God.”
As in years past, may our hearts again this year reflect the words of the Psalmist, “I will offer to You the sacrifice of Thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.”
“Bless the Lord, O’ my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O’ my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”
May we never forget!
One of my favorite proclamations is from President Abraham Lincoln and came at a pivotal point in Lincoln’s spiritual life. As he later explained to a clergyman, “When I left Springfield, Illinois, to assume the Presidency, I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ.”
The dramatic spiritual impact resulting from that experience was incredibly visible in Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the Source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart, which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most-High God.”
May this years Thanksgiving celebration be your best ever! By the blessings of God, we truly are far from want!
Tim Throckmorton is the Midwest Director of Ministry for the Family Research Council, who writes a weekly column published in The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.