Thanksgiving, 2009

by Derrick G. Jeter

Contrary to popular opinion and lore, the modern celebration of Thanksgiving is not what the Pilgrims would call Thanksgiving. For them, a day of thanks was a sacred day set aside to read the Psalms and other Scripture, to sing, and to attend church, pray, and listen to lengthy sermons. In fact, the very first Thanksgiving Day in America occurred at the end of July 1623, and did not include feasting. Provisions were scarce that summer, causing William Bradford, in his famous Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620–1647, to lament that “The best dish they could present their friends with was a lobster or a piece of fish without bread or anything else but a cup of fair spring water.”

What we celebrate as Thanksgiving is really based on the first harvest festival the Pilgrims had in America. Sometime in October 1621, after the harvest of corn came in, Governor Bradford order a time of feasting. The Pilgrims invited Massasoit, the chief of the neighboring Wampanoags, who arrived in Plymouth with ninety Indians a day early. And for three day, the Pilgrims and Indians celebrated, with songs, games, wrestling matches, foot races, marksmanship (with bow and musket), and military drills under the command of Captain Miles Standish.

Exactly what was on the menu is somewhat of a mystery, but we do know that Massasoit brought at least five dressed deer, while the Pilgrims provided wild fowl, including ducks and turkeys, various kinds of fish, and of course, Indian corn.

This harvest festival didn’t include religious services, but there is no doubt to whom the Pilgrims were thankful. According to Brandford’s account, just before his description of the three days of merriment, he wrote: “They [the Pilgrims] 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.”

I hope this Thanksgiving found you and your family full of gratitude for the grace and mercy shown by God, and for His many blessings. And I pray that you could, not just on this day of Thanksgiving, but on every day, say with the Pilgrims: “let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

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