The idea of Thanksgiving was to give recognition to God for his blessings and the pilgrims’ survival during the sixty-six-day trip on the Mayflower across the Atlantic Ocean. Disease and death were rampant on the ship so that only half of those that left Europe remained alive.
Arriving in America required them to stay on board for shelter from the harsh winter. The heartbreaking tragedies must have been overwhelming. By springtime, those that did survive were nearly helpless to provide for themselves.
The reason for their Thanksgiving was first that the travelers were alive. Surely, they were grateful that the freezing temperatures and snow had passed. When they disembarked from the ship, they found ample supply of natural essentials to construct homes. They had the mutual support gained by relying on each other for emotional and spiritual comfort.
It was a blessing that the American natives were not hostile. Instead, they found that the Indians spoke English when they were greeted by an Abenaki Native American. Later Squanto taught the Englishman how to survive. He had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery. He escaped and returned to his homeland. It is truly remarkable that this man offered only kindness to the pilgrims after the way he was treated by white men. How profound was the way God used the tragedy of Squanto for the survival of the pilgrims!
By harvest time that year there was much for which to be grateful. Their Thanksgiving was truly a giving of thanks for survival, provisions, and aid by the local natives. Nothing about their gratitude to God was frivolous or meaningless. They recognized how God intervened at a time that they were most vulnerable.
Squanto taught them how to cultivate corn, extract sap out of maple trees, catch fish in the rivers, and even how to avoid poisonous plants. It was by his support that the settlers were able to forge an alliance with the Wampanoag peoples. That alliance lasted for fifty years and is the only example of harmony between the European colonists and Native Americans.
In November 1621, Governor William Bradford organized a feast of celebration and invited chief Massasoit. The festival lasted three days when white settlers and 90 of the local Indians freely mingled, ate together, and enjoyed each other’s company. This again was a blessing that only could have been arranged by the Almighty God. Finally, the pilgrims were able to enjoy good health and good weather and even the five deer provided by the Indians.
Unfortunately, only four women survived the trip across the Atlantic and the harsh winter. These ladies and the men that accompanied them forged a new home and a new example of determination clothed in gratitude. They had true reasons to celebrate and a real cause for looking to the God that blessed them and then return thanks.
Please keep in mind that Thanksgiving is intended to be a giving of thanks for what we have, and in some cases survived, to the fourth Thursday of November. Join me in praise and appreciation for the interjection of God’s care in our lives.