We relocated to America from Australia over 40 years ago in 1980. We had many new things to learn and events to celebrate. One such event was Thanksgiving Day. It is not that when we were in Australia, we were not thankful. It is rather that we did not have a public holiday for such an occasion. Thanksgiving is the least spoiled celebration, the least commercialized holiday in America. When we arrived here, we had to learn what Thanksgiving Day was all about. And our family has come to both enjoy Thanksgiving and celebrate it!
HOW DID THANKSGIVING BEGIN?
Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. The modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is traced to a well-recorded 1619 event in Virginia and a sparsely documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The 1619 arrival of 38 English settlers at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia, concluded with a religious celebration as dictated by the group’s charter from the London Company, which required “that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned … in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” The 1621 Plymouth feast and Thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest. The Pilgrims celebrated this with the Wampanoags, a tribe of Native Americans who, along with the last surviving Patuxet, had helped them get through the previous winter by giving them food in that time of scarcity in exchange for an alliance and protection against the rival Narragansett tribe (wikipedia.org).
THE NATIVE AMERICAN VIEWPOINT
Chuck Colson wrote, “Most of us know the story of the first Thanksgiving; at least we know the Pilgrim version. But how many of us know the Indian viewpoint?
No, I’m not talking about some revisionist, politically correct version of history. I’m talking about the amazing story of how God used an Indian named Squanto as a special instrument of His providence.
Historical accounts of Squanto’s life vary, but historians believe that around 1608, more than a decade before the Pilgrims arrived, a group of English traders sailed to what is today Plymouth, Massachusetts. When the trusting Wampanoag Indians came out to trade, the traders took them, imprisoned them, transported them to Spain, and sold them into slavery. It was an unimaginable horror.
But God had an amazing plan for one of the captured Indians, a boy named Squanto.
Squanto was bought by a well-meaning Spanish monk, who treated him well and taught him the Christian faith. Squanto eventually made his way to England and worked in the stables of a man named John Slaney. Slaney sympathized with Squanto’s desire to return home, and he promised to put the Indian on the first vessel bound for America.
It wasn’t until 1619, ten years after Squanto was first kidnapped, that a ship was found. Finally, after a decade of exile and heartbreak, Squanto was on his way home.
But when he arrived in Massachusetts, more heartbreak awaited him. An epidemic had wiped out Squanto’s entire village.
We can only imagine what must have gone through Squanto’s mind. Why had God allowed him to return home, against all odds, only to find his loved ones dead?
A year later, the answer came. A shipload of English families arrived and settled on the very land once occupied by Squanto’s people. Squanto went to meet them, greeting the startled Pilgrims in English.
According to the diary of Pilgrim Governor William Bradford, Squanto ‘became a special instrument sent of God for [our] good . . . He showed [us] how to plant [our] corn, where to take fish and to procure other commodities . . . and was also [our] pilot to bring [us] to unknown places for [our] profit, and never left [us] till he died.’
When Squanto lay dying of fever, Bradford wrote that their Indian friend ‘desir[ed] the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen’s God in heaven.’ Squanto bequeathed his possessions to the Pilgrims ‘as remembrances of his love.’
Who but God could so miraculously convert a lonely Indian and then use him to save a struggling band of Englishmen? It is reminiscent of the biblical story of Joseph, who was also sold into slavery, and whom God likewise used as a special instrument for good.
Squanto’s life story is remarkable, and we ought to make sure our children learn about it. Sadly, most books about Squanto omit references to his Christian faith. But I’m delighted to say that my friend Eric Metaxas has written a wonderful children’s book called ‘Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving.’ I highly recommend it because it will teach your kids about the ‘special instrument sent of God,’ who changed the course of American history” (breakpoint.org).
THE SETTING OF THE DATE
Thanksgiving in the United States has been observed on differing dates. From the time of the Founding Fathers until the time of Lincoln, the date of observance varied from state to state. The final Thursday in November had become the customary date in most U.S. states by the beginning of the 19th century, coinciding with, and eventually superseding the holiday of Evacuation Day (commemorating the day the British exited the United States after the Revolutionary War).
Modern Thanksgiving was proclaimed for all states in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln. Influenced by Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote letters to politicians for approximately 40 years advocating an official holiday, Lincoln set national Thanksgiving by proclamation for the final Thursday in November, explicitly in celebration of the bounties that had continued to fall on the Union and for the military successes in the war, and also explicitly in “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.” Because of the ongoing Civil War, a nationwide Thanksgiving celebration was not realized until Reconstruction was completed in the 1870s.
On October 31, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a presidential proclamation changing the holiday to the next to last Thursday in November, for business reasons. On December 26, 1941, he signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday in November (wikipedia.org).
THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW
What about us now? Simply put, we need to be thankful. The Bible is full of exhortations to God’s people to be thankful. The Psalms are full of such calls, such as Psalm 100:4, which states, ‘Enter His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him and bless His name.’
Of course, the most important reason for thanking God is John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’
Let us be thankful and enjoy Thanksgiving: the turkey and gravy, the pumpkin pies and ice – cream, and the times with family and friends! But most of all, let us remember to be thankful for all that God has done!!!!
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Kairos Ministries.