Thanksgiving- Where it Began

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Thankful For Friends

Thanksgiving has two amazing origin stories. The first thanksgiving is usually thought of as the celebration of the bountiful harvest for the Pilgrims. This meal was a three day feast that was shared between Native Americans and Pilgrims. The Pilgrims were celebrating a breakthrough in their new endeavor in freedom- they had finally reached a place of abundance! Before this they had a bitter cold winter, disease, and failed crops. They didnʻt understand how to work the land, and their ability to survive was dependent on this.

Enter Squanto. This Native American forged friendship with these newcomers to his land. But before any of that happened he was greatly wronged. He was taken by ship to England and made a slave. He managed to escape and return to America, but his time in England actually prepared him to aid the Pilgrims with translation and mediating friendships with other Native Americans. In forging friendship with the Pilgrims, he taught them how to work the ground so they would actually reap a harvest.

This was the first opportunity the pilgrims had to actually feast and celebrate. They had gone to America on faith that it would be a better life for them, where they could live in freedom. And now they were finally starting to thrive, and life in America seemed possible.

This was a meal set aside for fellowship. Chief Massasoit and the Wampanoag tribe sat at table with English settlers. It was a meal joining hearts. These people were celebrating their friendship that reached beyond any of their norms. They forged friendship despite vast cultural differences and understandings. They both benefited from operating in trust and love, rather than fear and suspicion.

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National Day of Thanksgiving- Thankful While Broken

The other Thanksgiving origin story is less known. Thanksgiving was not a national holiday until the middle of the Civil War. The nation was torn apart, and the death toll was climbing. More men died in the Civil War than any other war in US history. In fact the US saw more loss of life than in World War I, II, Korean and Vietnam war combined.  In 1863, the middle of this horrifying war, Abraham Lincoln instituted Thanksgiving as a national holiday. In his proclamation, Lincoln called the nation to be mindful of the goodness of God in the midst of a very difficult time, saying “In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict…

Lincoln goes on to list the good things America had experienced that year, saying, “They are the the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.”

Thanksgiving is a table of friendship where America gathers in unity, thankful for the grace of God. We gather not because we deserve the bounty, or that we have worked so hard to earn it, or because we have done everything right and good. We meet together because God is good, and we have received his mercy. Out of that mercy we can forgive, we can be humble, and we can forge friendships with people who see the world differently than we do.

In the midst of trying times, where we may have been wronged, or wrongs have been done to us, we can still rejoice, because we can find something to be thankful for. Whether we face a uncertain tomorrow, or a bountiful feast, we can face each day with joy because we start with thanksgiving.

God’s will for us is sometimes more simple than we think. “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks, for this is God’s will for you…” Instead of fear, have faith. Instead of worry, rejoice. Instead of suspicion, trust. Instead of bitterness, forgive. All of this begins, and continues, in thankfulness.