It’s Thanksgiving week. Despite the challenges, there is much to be thankful for in America. Still, too many aren’t looking at the abundant blessings. It’s too easy to focus on the political and cultural strife instead of the true meaning of Thanksgiving.
Over the last few years, the media has vilified one of our country’s most cherished holidays. Some have said it’s not a day to celebrate America. For example, MSNBC host Gyasi Ross in 2021 said settlers brought genocide and violence. Jason Johnson said some call Thanksgiving “Colonizer Christmas.” Some colleges have referred to the cherished day as “complicated” and said the holiday represented genocide and imperialism. In high schools across the country, Thanksgiving has been grossly taught that European settlers displaced and murdered Native Americans.
Is this true?
Do these narratives really portray Thanksgiving and the meaning behind it?
Here’s the reality — in 1620, those on the Mayflower and the ships sailing with it weren’t interested in imperialism. Instead, they were fleeing religious persecution. A close reading of the Mayflower Compact showed that those who sailed the treacherous journey were making a vow to God of how they could freely practice their faith, participate in prosperity, and own land in the “New World.”
“In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc.
Having undertaken for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together in a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.”
The Pilgrims arrived near the tip of Cape Cod and soon after established a village at Plymouth. The first winter was brutal. Most remained on their ships and contracted scurvy and contagious diseases. Only half of those who sailed from England survived.
In the spring, a member of the Abenaki tribe greeted them, speaking English. Days later, he returned to the village with Squanto, a Pawtuxet tribe member who a sea captain kidnaped, escaped to London, and later returned as part of an exploratory expedition.
Squanto saw the Pilgrims were weak from malnutrition and disease. He taught them how to grow corn, extract sap from maple trees, fish the rivers, and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped them develop an alliance with the Wampanoag tribe.
In November 1621, the corn harvest was a major success. Gov. William Bradford declared a celebration and feast. He invited the tribes to partake with them- that day has been referred to as the “first thanksgiving.”
During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress designated days of thanksgiving several times per year. In 1785, Benjamin Franklin said Thanksgiving was a day of “public Felicity” for Americans to give thanks for the “full enjoyment of Liberty, civil, and religious” freedoms. Four years later, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation and called on citizens to express gratitude for the successful war of independence and for ratifying the US Constitution. His successors, John Adams and James Madison, also designated days of Thanksgiving.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln scheduled Thanksgiving on the final Thursday in November for Americans to ask God to care for the widows, orphans, mourners, and sufferers of the Civil War. In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation that made Thanksgiving a national holiday.
While America should recognize the wrongs of the past and continually strive to form a “more perfect union,” as the preamble to the Constitution states, Thanksgiving sends the message that America should celebrate all that is good and right about the country.
Thanksgiving isn’t just a time for family, friends, football, and turkey. It’s a day to celebrate the longest-enduring society of freedom. It signifies the day in 1621 when Pilgrims pursued the right to worship freely and learned to live in peace with those around them, free of a king, queen, or dictator. We are the inheritors of the blessings and promises of America.
That’s worth giving Thanks for in my book!