Who Could Have Predicted That Giving Thanks Would Be Controversial?

by Mark Harris

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Well it is, after all, 2020. The year that everything seems controversial. Let’s take for example the subject of Thanksgiving. I grew weary reading article after article on the internet about how everything we have been taught about Thanksgiving is false. There are more of those types of articles than on our rich heritage of being a thankful people.

Here are some facts to consider. People have been giving thanks to God since the creation of Adam and Eve. One of the required feasts God gave to the people of Israel in the book of Exodus was the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. Sukkot is a Jewish holiday held in the fall to give thanks for the gathering of the harvest as well as the remembrance of Jewish exodus from Egypt.

The day we celebrate in the United States as Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday of November. It has its origin from the first harvest celebration by the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation in 1621. The Pilgrims were English Separatists whose Calvinist views did not comply with those of the Church of England. They were fleeing religious persecution and willing to take enormous risks to find a place to worship as they saw fit. In spite of what you read on the internet, the Pilgrim’s motivation was religious freedom, which was very different from the motivation of the entrepreneurial settlers of Jamestown in Virginia, founded earlier in 1607.

When the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock in November of 1620, the Pilgrims were ill prepared. Only 51 of the 102 Pilgrims survived that first brutal winter. After a successful harvest in fall of 1621, a three-day celebration of thanksgiving was conducted. Being extremely thankful to God for their survival in their first year, they were also thankful for God’s blessing on their crops that year. 

Thankfully, we have a first-hand account from Edward Winslow, one of the survivors of that first year Plymouth colony, who described the thanksgiving celebration in a letter to his friend in England, a few months later in December, 1621. With all the hardship they endured, they never lost sight of the bountiful hand of God on their lives.

Throughout the New Testament we are encouraged to give thanks. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 succinctly says, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The celebration of 1621 was a great time of giving thanks to God.

Are you thankful for all God has given you this year?

George Washington, in the first national Thanksgiving Day proclamation in 1789, called on all Americans to “unite to render unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection.”

Later, Abraham Lincoln at the height of the Civil War, made Thanksgiving an annual national holiday in 1863.

We could all find reasons, especially this year, to focus on our troubles. We could choose to spend our time arguing about the history of Thanksgiving. But one unarguable fact is that we each have a lot to be thankful for, even in the midst of one of the most tumultuous years in our lifetimes.

I hope you will take encouragement from Psalm 100:4-5, “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.”

What are you thankful for this year? On Thanksgiving 2020, let’s give thanks to our God’s benevolent hand of blessing on our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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