By: Alicia Stewart
The first Thanksgiving took place in 1621. Seeking freedom of religion, the Mayflower ship set out for the New World from England in September 1620. When the ship reached Massachusetts Bay, about 100 days later, winter had already arrived. The Pilgrims spent the first winter on board the ship. It was a cold, hard winter. About half of the original 102 passengers died of exposure, scurvy, or disease. In March, 1621, the Pilgrims made their way to shore to start the difficult task of establishing a village. Once on shore the passengers were greeted by two Abekani Indians speaking English! One of the Indians, Squanto, had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and taken to England, where he escaped and traveled back on another ship completing an exploratory mission. Squanto taught these English settlers how to survive by planting corn, fishing, extracting Maple sap, and avoiding poisonous plants. Squanto also helped the Pilgrims develop an allegiance with a local tribe. In November, after the harvest, the Pilgrims and Indians celebrated with a feast that is commonly considered the first Thanksgiving.
While Thanksgiving days were observed sporadically with different colonies, the first official Thanksgiving proclamation came from George Washington in 1789 for the country to express gratitude for the newly acquired independence and the ratification of the U.S. constitution. The holiday remained sporadic until Abraham Lincoln established a national holiday in 1863 on the last Thursday in November. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up one week in an attempt to increase sales during the depression, but this change did not become official until 1941. Thanksgiving has remained on the fourth Thursday of November since that time.
The Bible tells us we should give thanks to God for the blessings provided to us. Psalm 100 says to “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come before His presence with singing! Know (perceive, recognize, and understand with approval) that the Lord is God! It is He Who has made us, not we ourselves [and we are His]! We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and thank offering and into His courts with praise. Be thankful and say so to Him, bless and affectionately praise His name! For the Lord is good; His mercy and loving-kindness are everlasting. His faithfulness and truth endure to all generations” (verses 1–5).
We are to give thanks to God for all our blessings. The New Testament tells us we “…will be enriched in all things and in every way…bring forth thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11) and the Old Testament says to “…give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy and loving-kindness endure forever” (1 Chronicles 16:34)! We are also told that “Every good gift and every perfect (free, large, full) gift is from above; it comes down from the Father of all [that gives] light, in [the shining of] Whom there can be no variation [rising or setting] or shadow cast by His turning [as in an eclipse]” (James 1:17).
Even in times of difficulty we are to give praise and thanksgiving. Philippians 4:6–7 admonishes us: “Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. And God’s peace (shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” In 2 Corinthians 4:15–16 we are also told that more divine grace and favor will extend to us if we let our “…thanksgiving may increase [and redound] to the glory of God. Therefore we do not become discouraged (utterly spiritless, exhausted, and wearied out through fear)…”
Our praise and thanksgiving are not limited to one national holiday but must be a part of our daily lives. “Now therefore, our God, we thank You and praise Your glorious name and those attributes which that name denotes” (1 Chronicles 29:13). “The Lord is my Strength and my [impenetrable] Shield; my heart trusts in, relies on and confidently leans on Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song will I praise Him” (Psalm 28:7). “Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Have a safe and blessed holiday. Remember to give thanks to the Lord from whom all blessings flow.
All scripture quotes and references are from the Amplified version of the Bible.