As if everything must be God-free and secularized, the modern version of Thanksgiving being taught to our children in school is about the Pilgrims thanking the Indians (native Americans) for their survival. Gone is the truth that the Pilgrims held a Thanksgiving celebration to thank the God of the Bible for their bountiful harvest. It's not that the Pilgrims did not especially appreciate and thank Squanto, a member of the Patuxet band of the Wampanoag tribe, for all they learned from him about harvesting crustaceans, success with crops and other practical living skills. In fact, his guidance proved so indispensable to them that Plymouth Governor William Bradford was moved to declare him a "special instrument sent of God for [their] good." In fact, so close was their relationship that Squanto was baptized into the Christian faith.
This practice of giving thanks to God for his providence and his guidance was repeated throughout American history. In fact, when Columbus first landed in the New World, his first act was to kneel and give thanks to God for their safe journey. The first recorded day of thanksgiving in America was in what is now St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565. The first celebration of thanksgiving in Virginia was held in 1620 about 20 miles north of Jamestown. Its purpose was "giving thanks to God." The Pilgrim Thanksgiving which receives the most publicity was celebrated in the autumn of 1621. It is from this particular celebration that the tradition of eating turkey on that day comes.
Pilgrim leader, Edward Winslow wrote this about the first Thanksgiving (in modern English)…
"…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."
On June 1, 1774, Thomas Jefferson introduced a resolution into the Virginia House of Burgesses, calling for a day of fasting and prayer. It read in part…
"Being deeply impressed with apprehension of the great dangers, to be derived to British America, from the hostile Invasion of the City of Boston, in our Sister Colony of Massachusetts bay, whose commerce and harbor are, on the first Day of June next, to be stopped by an Armed force, deem it highly necessary that the said first day of June be set apart, by the members of this House as a day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer, devoutly to implore the divine interposition, for averting the heavy Calamity which threatens destruction to our Civil Rights, and the Evils of civil War; to give us one heart and one Mind firmly to oppose, by all just and proper means, every injury to American Rights; and that the Minds of his Majesty and his Parliament, may be inspired from above with Wisdom, Moderation, and Justice, to remove from the loyal People of America all cause of danger, from a continued pursuit of Measures, pregnant with their ruin."
On October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued the following Proclamation of Thanksgiving…
"Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor…Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and…for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. …and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions…To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue…and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best."
On October 3, 1863, in the midst of a terrible civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation which reads in part…
"To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God…No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt included in his proclamation the following words…
"…Americans have thanked God for their blessings. In our deepest natures, in our very souls, we…turn to God in time of trouble and in time of happiness. 'In God We Trust.'
On October 27, 1961, President John F. Kennedy began his Thanksgiving Proclamation in this way…
"More than three centuries ago, the Pilgrims, after a year of hardship and peril, humbly and reverently set aside a special day upon which to give thanks to God for their preservation and for the good harvest from the virgin soil upon which they had labored. Grave and unknown dangers remained. Yet by their faith and by their toil they had survived the rigors of the harsh New England winter. Hence they paused in their labors to give thanks for the blessings that had been bestowed upon them by Divine Providence."
In his first Thanksgiving Proclamation, President Ronald Reagan wrote…
"Searching our hearts, we should ask what we can do as individuals to demonstrate our gratitude to God for all He has done. Such reflection can only add to the significance of this precious day of remembrance. Let us recommit ourselves to that devotion to God and family that has played such an important role in making this a great Nation, and which will be needed as a source of strength if we are to remain a great people.
President Bill Clinton's 1997 Thanksgiving Proclamation began this way…
"Once again, millions of us will gather with family and friends to give thanks to God for the many blessings that He has bestowed upon us."
All of our Presidents have included references to God and giving thanks to God in their Thanksgiving Proclamations right up until today. That is as it should be considering that God is the author of our freedom and has watched over our nation since its founding.
Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. It is an expression of a nation founded by men of faith who understood that their every need was in the hands of the almighty God who created the heavens and the earth. Every attribute we were born with—our appearance, our innate abilities, our aptitudes, our personality, our intelligence—all are gifts from God. We are what we are because God created us this way.
Sadly, some have sought to secularize Thanksgiving and to erase our Christian heritage from our textbooks. But God cannot be erased. He is the author of life and of freedom. He is the source of all wisdom. He is the God of our Fathers.
These are difficult times for America; but, throughout our history there have been many other dark times. The Pilgrims experienced dreadfully difficult times during which many lost their lives. The Founders risked having their neck in a noose if they failed to secure American freedom. The bloody civil war cost hundreds of thousands of lives in North and South. Reoccurring wars, from the time of the Revolution up through World War I and II and continuing on today, place our nation in a perilous position. Threats external and internal threaten to destroy the nation created by our Founders, yet by the grace, mercy and blessing of God, we continue.
Ironically, the hymn most associated with Thanksgiving is Come, Ye Thankful People Come, written by the Englishman Henry "Dean" Alford in 1844. Its words are truly inspiring…
Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.
All the world is God's own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.
For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.
Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.
As we celebrate another Thanksgiving, it is my hope that you and all Americans will pause to give thanks to God for all our blessings, especially the blessing of liberty. Happy Thanksgiving!