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It’s hard to believe we are already near November! Thanksgiving Day will be quickly approaching. Unfortunately, most retailers believe that there are only two end-of-the-year holidays. Once Halloween is over (or even before), we see immediate advertisements for Christmas sales! Apparently, not enough merchandise can be sold to pay much attention to Thanksgiving.
Do you know the REAL story of the first Thanksgiving? It’s not quite the one that we may have heard. We often think that Thanksgiving had its start in the Plymouth Colony as they gathered with Native Americans to share a feast of turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce, thanking God for the harvest, then sitting down for an afternoon watching football….This started a tradition that continues to this day…NOT!
The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 after the Pilgrim’s first harvest. They invited the local Native Americans to join them, who provided five deer for the feast. By the way, it was a three-day celebration that included feasting, hunting, and a variety of games (football?).
The menu included the deer brought by the Native Americans; however, there was no turkey. Pumpkins and potatoes had not yet been introduced into North America. Cranberries may have been eaten raw, but no cranberry sauce.
The celebration of thanking God for the harvest was not held again for many years. It was not until 1789 that George Washington first declared Thanksgiving a national holiday; it was celebrated on Thursday, November 26. However, it didn’t become an annual celebration until the middle of the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln made it an annual holiday in 1863 to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. His action was prompted, at least in part, by Sarah Hale who waged a 30-year campaign prior to this to make it an annual holiday. She was the one who suggested recipes for the food we today associate with Thanksgiving. The final change was made by FDR 1941, when he changed the date of Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November.
But the deeper story is even more interesting. The first year the Pilgrims spent in Plymouth Colony was incredibly hard. Of 100 original colonists, over half died of sickness or exposure. In the end, only 7-8 people were left that were well enough to care for the sick. They would not have survived if the Native Americans had not provided food for them. So the first Thanksgiving was not just about the harvest but about their very survival. George Washington declared the holiday shortly after the Revolutionary War. Abraham Lincoln declared the annual holiday in the middle of the Civil War, and FDR made his change during World War II.
It seems that it takes hardship, suffering and struggle to remind us to thank God for all we have! Maybe we tend to ignore Thanksgiving because life is too good. We have all we need and we begin to take it for granted. We believe we are entitled to our abundant blessings.
But listen to the words of Paul in Philippians 4:4-7:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Do you want a cure for anxiety? Thank God. Do you want a sense of peace in the middle of problems that seem to gang up on you? Thank God. A pastor many years ago learned this the hard way.
“Now Thank We All Our God” is a hymn we often sing at Thanksgiving. It was written by Pastor Martin Rinkart, who served the town of Eilenburg, Germany
from 1617 to 1649. During his ministry, the town was caught in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War and the bubonic plague. The plague killed 4,500 people, sometimes 50 per day; and Martin buried most of them…including his own wife. Yet in spite of this, he could express thanks through the words of this song.
Don’t be distracted and take God’s blessings for granted. Daily thank God for everything—for the good because it all came from God and for our difficulties, hurts, disappointments, and loss because thanksgiving puts the bad things in perspective. God has promised to work all things, both the good and bad, for our good (Romans 8:28)