America’s national “Thanksgiving” holiday is rooted in the nation’s Christian origins and the habit of its first immigrants to set aside special days for giving thanks to God for His goodness and blessings. This custom can be traced back to the Pilgrims who landed at Cape Cod in November 1620, and who periodically would set aside days in which to offer gratitude to God for His mercy and blessings. This custom was carried on by succeeding generations and found its way into the national consciousness and calendar.
The First Thanksgiving
The Pilgrims who landed on Cape Cod in November 1620 were devout followers of Christ who had left the comforts of home, family and friends to pursue their vision of a renewed and reformed Christianity. They were not whiners but chose to maintain an attitude of gratitude even through the most trying times, such as the winter of 1620-21 when sickness ravaged their community and half of them—about 50—were taken away in death.
The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims after they gathered in their harvest in the fall of 1621, about one year after their landing at Cape Cod. Although their hearts were still heavy from the losses suffered the previous winter, there were at least three areas for which they felt particularly grateful to God.
1) With the arrival of spring, the sickness that had immobilized the community and taken many of them in death had lifted. Their health returned, and although sad from their losses, they were able to apply themselves to carving out a home in the New England wilderness.
2) With the arrival of spring, God providentially sent to them an English-speaking Native American, Squanto, who became their interpreter and guide, helping them establish friendly relations with Massosoit, chief of the Wampanoag, the nearest and most powerful tribe in the region. In March 1621 they had signed an agreement of peace and mutual aid with Massosoit, which resulted in both peoples moving freely back and forth in friendship and trade.
3) Through hard work and Squanto’s advice about farming and fishing (they were mostly townspeople and craftsmen), they experienced abundant harvests during the summer and fall of 1621.
Even though they still felt the loss of so many friends and family members, they could see God’s hand of mercy sustaining them in the preceding months. So after gathering in their fall harvest, which was abundant, Gov. William Bradford designated a Day of Thanksgiving, during which they would pause to offer up thanks to God for His mercy and blessings. They were not whiners. They knew what it meant to “count their blessings.”
Englishmen and Native Americans Celebrate Together
The first Thanksgiving was attended by an approximate equal number of English Pilgrims and Native Americans. After Gov. Bradford announced the Day of Thanksgiving, word of the event soon spread to their Native American friends. So when the day arrived, not only were there individual natives on hand, but Massosoit arrived with 90 of his people, and five dressed deer to add to the meals the Pilgrims had prepared.
The Pilgrims did not seek to force their faith on the Indians, but neither did they hide their faith. After all, in the Mayflower Compact they had stated that they had come to the New World “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” One can only imagine the emotions that filled their hearts as, in the presence of their new Native American friends, they joined Elder William Brewster in lifting up their hearts in praise and thanksgiving to God.
The day turned out to be more than they could have imagined. Not only did they enjoy meals together with thankful hearts, but they engaged in shooting matches, foot races and wrestling matches. It was such an enjoyable time that the one Day of Thanksgiving was extended for three full days.
And yes, it is almost certain that there was turkey at the first Thanksgiving, for Gov. Bradford had sent out four men to hunt for “fowl” who returned with enough “fowl” to last them an entire week.
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SOURCE: Charisma News