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2011 has been another tough year and many might think that we have less to be thankful about this Thanksgiving than most. This is untrue.
Because every day we should be thankful that we live in the United States of America. Because a bad day in America is better than a good day anywhere else on earth.
Let us consider the condition of men, women and children throughout the ages. Life has been, and continues to be today in many parts of the world, a hit-or-miss proposition with food scarce, material comforts lacking and life itself a tenuous gamble. Yet today, despite our economic woes, we in America have more prosperity than most people in the world and most people throughout history have ever dreamed about. And if we are deprived temporarily, then that will only strengthen us.
Let us give thanks for what we’ve got.
Modern Thanksgiving originated after the perilous voyage of America’s first settlers who came to a wilderness and struggled just to stay alive. Today our bountiful Thanksgiving tables, graced with turkeys from Minnesota and cranberries from Massachusetts and potatoes from Idaho or Maine never even would have been conceived of on that first Thanksgiving when the food came from a half-mile around.
We have made so much progress. What would the Plymouth settlers think of our freedoms and prosperity today, all gained as a result of their sacrifices?
We would hope that their hearts would be glad.
The Puritans who celebrated the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts were living in infinitely tougher conditions than America is today. But rather than contemplating the negative they worked hard to confront what challenged them – difficult living conditions, scarce food and a frightening and uncertain future on the edge of a vast wilderness. Yet today many of our citizens are worried only about how long their unemployment checks are going to last or when is their next trip to Vegas.
Those Puritans came to America for ideological reasons and this spurred them on. They gave up their comforts in England to seek out religious freedom. And their belief in God sustained them through the hardest of times, the times that they survived to ultimately create the nation and the prosperity that we now have. And as we enjoy our bountiful meals on Thursday, we should thank them in prayer for their fortitude, and we should vow to maintain our vision of freedom for we face nothing nearly as dire as they did.
And we should think of them as who they really were – people of iron wills who sacrificed their own material security so that others in future generations could live better and more freely and worship Heavenly God in the way that they see fit.
Imagine today that those of us who oppose our government’s policies were given a tract of land in the wilderness. And that we went there with virtually nothing just as the Puritans came to America. And that we had to carve out an existence, with many of our friends, family and neighbors dying during the experience. Imagine the hardship. After a period in the wilderness we would be saying, “Why weren’t we more thankful for what we had?”
Because today in America we must be. We should count our blessings every day and not our shortcomings; and consider the positive and not the negative. Because we are blessed in our abundant land, and someday today’s woes will be a memory.
The first Thanksgiving was said to have been held in 1621 when the Plymouth colonists shared an autumn feast with the Wampanoag Indians. It was much like celebrations of the harvest by Indians and by rural European peasants over the centuries. As early as 1619, British settlers in Virginia prayed to God in “Thanksgiving” and there even is evidence of an earlier “thanksgiving” celebration on September 8, 1565, in what is now St. Augustine, Florida.
Early Thanksgiving meals included venison and wild fowl because that is what was readily available. And so today we celebrate with turkey. In First Thanksgiving from A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Edward Winslow 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 fruit 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, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among 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 upon 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.”
By 1782, the state of New Hampshire had offered this proclamation to establish a day for thanks to God:
THAT the following Proclamation for a general THANKSGIVING on the twenty-eighth day of November [instant?], received from the honorable Continental Congress, be forthwith printed, and sent to the several worshipping Assemblies in this State, to whom it is recommended religiously to observe said day, and to abstain from all servile labour thereon.
M. WEARE, President.
Then the US Congress:
By the United States in Congress assembled.
IT being the indispensable duty of all Nations, not only to offer up their supplications to ALMIGHTY GOD, the giver of all good, for his gracious assistance in a time of distress, but also in a solemn and public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of his providence in their behalf: Therefore the United States in Congress assembled, taking into their consideration the many instances of divine goodness to these States, in the course of the important conflict in which they have been so long engaged; the present happy and promising state of public affairs; and the events of the war, in the course of the year now drawing to a close; particularly the harmony of the public Councils, which is so necessary to the success of the public cause; the perfect union and good understanding which has hitherto subsisted between them and their Allies, notwithstanding the artful and unwearied attempts of the common enemy to divide them; the success of the arms of the United States, and those of their Allies, and the acknowledgment of their independence by another European power, whose friendship and commerce must be of great and lasting advantage to these States:—– Do hereby recommend to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their authority in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the twenty-eight day of NOVEMBER next, as a day of solemn THANKSGIVING to GOD for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to GOD for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience of his laws, and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.
Done in Congress, at Philadelphia, the eleventh day of October, in the year of our LORD one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two, and of our Sovereignty and Independence, the seventh.
JOHN HANSON, President.
Charles Thomson, Secretary.
George Washington proclaimed a Thanksgiving in 1795 while president John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799. By 1858 proclamations selecting a day of thanksgiving were issued by the governors of 25 states and two territories.
In the depths of the Civil War, president Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863. He was acting on the basis of editorials written by the influential journalist Sarah Josepha Hale.
Today, what do we think about on Thanksgiving? We think not about a vicious civil war or the struggle to survive, but about family, friends and a bountiful harvest which comes every year, not just when the weather is right. We have warm homes, technologically-advanced cars to take us where we need to go, electronic gadgets galore to entertain us, mortality statistics that are the envy of the world, parades and football games, and Black Friday shopping sprees.
It is much, much more than our Puritan forefathers ever could have imagined. And we owe them our eternal gratitude for making it all possible.
We have so much to be grateful for this year, and every year in America.
Happy Thanksgiving to all…