Do you envision a Normal Rockwell image of the grandmother serving a scrumptious Thanksgiving turkey to her family? Can you picture a group of school children dressed up as little Pilgrims and Indians performing in a school play? Or, perhaps images of the first Pilgrims giving thanks to God for surviving in a perilous new land pop into your mind. How many warm images of past family Thanksgivings light your memories?
First of all – who really did celebrate the First Thanksgiving? And what did it look like through their eyes? Did they see it the same way we see it today?
The people we call Pilgrims, were English people seeking to escape the religious controversies and economic hardships of their of 17th century homeland. By emigrating to a new frontier in America, they hoped to build a new nation; one in which they would enjoy freedom from oppressive rulers; most of all, freedom of conscience and religion.
They did not exactly look at the world as we do today, through the eyes of psychiatry and technology, since they still lived in a time which accepted witches and fairies, herbal remedies and astrological virtues, seasonal festivals and folklore. They were the inheritors of the Medieval world of Shakespeare as well as the recent Protestant Reformation.
However, they were not simply a primitive folk deprived of our technology, but a vital and courageous people who embodied the best elements of their European culture. They brought that culture to the New World, attempting to establish a citadel of English/European society on the edge of an alien continent. This would prove no easy task. The Mayflower voyage in itself was a perilous journey of over 3,000 miles across an Atlantic ocean, beset by autumn storms.
To these new shores, they brought familiar customs, among which were an autumn secular harvest celebration and a Puritan religious Thanksgiving holy day. But, it may surprise us to know, that these two events were actually totally separate and independent in their minds. It is we, today, who have blurred the differences and merged the two events into one. A secular celebration such as a harvest was merely an annual event which would quite naturally include the giving of religious thanks to God; because acknowledgement of God’s Providence was simply part of Puritan daily life. So a true Day of Thanksgiving would have been a completely separate observance.
To be more precise; the Puritans had rejected the old Medieval ecclesiastical calendar of Christmas, Easter and Saint’s days, accepting only three allowable holy days: The Sabbath, the Day of Humiliation and Fasting, and the Day of Thanksgiving and Praise. The latter two were never held on a regular basis, but only in direct response to God’s Providence. In other words; when things went well, they believed this was a sign of God’s pleasure with the community, and a Day of Thanksgiving was declared. On the other hand, they interpreted misfortune, bad crops etc. as God’s displeasure with the community, indicating the need for a Day of Fasting and Humiliation.
Thus the harvest celebration of autumn, 1621 was quite plainly neither a fast day nor a thanksgiving day in the eyes of the Pilgrims. Rather it was a mere secular harvest celebration which included games, recreations, and three days of feasting with Indian guests. It would have been unthinkable to the early Puritan Pilgrim to think of these things as part of a religious Thanksgiving. The actual first declared Thanksgiving occurred in 1623, after a providential rain shower had saved the colony’s crops.
On September 28, 1789, the first Federal Congress passed a resolution asking that the President of the United States recommend to the nation a day of thanksgiving. A few days later, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a “Day of Public Thanksgiving”, the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated under the new Constitution.
Later, in 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”, to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. It has been celebrated as a Federal holiday every year since.
In the later part of the 19th Century, when looking back for a precedent for the modern, more secular Thanksgiving of family feasts and football games which had evolved after the decline of Puritanism, did people discover the first harvest celebration of those early English settlers in 1623, and so dubbed it the “First Thanksgiving.” Ever since, the Pilgrims have been the symbolic originators of our familiar November holiday. Legends about the feast have turned it into a mythic event worthy of our emulation.
Yet, though the root beginnings of our Thanksgiving holiday may be tinged with legend, there is nevertheless something deeply imbued in the American psyche, since the days of those first Pilgrims, to offer gratitude and thanksgiving to Almighty God for His blessings.
The celebration of this feast, is also a very good way to remember and appreciate those hardy English men and women who braved great dangers to follow their own consciences and give glory to God. It reminds us never to forget or take for granted, those precious freedoms that their courage won for us.
So, as we gather around warm tables this Thanksgiving Day, let us give thanks for those first pioneers, and all who came after them, who braved great hardships to earn for us the freedoms we enjoy today – chief among them – our Religious Freedom and Freedom of Conscience!
We thank also, all of our brave men and women in the military; those who made the ultimate sacrifice and those who continue to place themselves in harm’s way, in order to protect and preserve those freedoms which the first pioneers earned for us.
Most of all, we thank and praise Almighty God, for all His many bountiful blessings.
Lake County Right to Life Thanks all of our wonderful supporters who continue to help us in the work we do to fight for an end to abortion. We could not do it without you.
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