Turkey Day? Really? It was made a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Was it supposed to be a day to celebrate food? Actually what Lincoln said in his Thanksgiving Proclamation was that the country should “…set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” This is quite different from some modern school textbooks which state that any thanks was given to the Indians.
The first Thanksgiving was described by Separatist, Edward Winslow, in his writings and published in England in “Mourt's Relation” in 1622. Winslow described the iconic American event this way: “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so 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, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, Many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”
William Bradford, the Governor of Plymouth Plantation, summed up the perspective that the Pilgrims had after their year of extreme hardship: “And thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, and to bless their outgoings and incomings, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity.”
These Separatists, or Pilgrims as we call them, did all to seek God. They came to the New World to seek God. They endured the cold, sickness, and privation as they sought God. And their celebration after the plentiful harvest culminated in thanking God. Their focus was God. The source of this holiday is simple gratitude for God's provision. In our modern, prosperous society we don't look to God as much as this small group of believers did in 1621. They were desperate for God and so they sought Him out. Let's thank Him now in the midst of our plenty and as Bradford said so many years ago, “… let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity.”
– Mary Atwood