Ed Jones, Pastor
In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful due to the guidance and teaching of Squanto, a Patuxet Indian, Governor William Bradford organized a celebration and feast. He invited a group of the colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as America’s first Thanksgiving—although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time—the festival lasted for three days. Much of what we know about what happened at the first Thanksgiving comes from Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow, who wrote:
“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 fruits 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 amongst 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 at 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.”
According to the Smithsonian magazine, in addition to wildfowl and deer, the colonists and Wampanoag probably ate eels and shellfish, such as lobster, clams, and mussels.
In 1827, noted magazine editor and prolific writer Sarah Joepha Hale—author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”—launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years, she published numerous editorials and sent scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents, and other politicians, earning her the nickname the “Mother of Thanksgiving.”
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln finally heeded her request in a proclamation entreating all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”
Scheduled for the final Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day every year until 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Known derisively as “Franksgiving,” the idea met passionate opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.
Giving thanks to God is fundamental to our nation’s existence and growth. It consists of worship, prayer, faith, holiness, giving, and sacrifice. May we remember its importance and practice it in our lives, in the light of God’s word, so that our relationship with Him would grow from strength to strength and that our nation would prosper. Amen.
Ed Jones pastors Fellowship at the Ranch Church at Robson Ranch. This nondenominational church meets at the Robson Clubhouse on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. For information, visit Fellowship’s website, www.fellowshipattheranchchurch.com.