The real story of the first Thanksgiving can teach us many things about what how much we have to be thankful for.
Today is Thanksgiving day here in America and what a great day it is. Contrary to most holidays, Thanksgiving is a relatively simple holiday. No gifts are exchanged, no cards distributed, no fancy fireworks to buy. For most folks Thanksgiving is a time just to get together, spend time in each other’s company, and “give thanks” for all we have. I can imagine many families across our nation will be gathering around tables of food and drink, laughter and music, friends and family. It affords us a break from work to focus on a few of the things that matter most in life.
One aspect of this holiday most folks are familiar with is the story of the first Thanksgiving in America. Part truth and part myth, the story we are taught is well known. During the early days of the English settlement in America a small settlement of Pilgrims came seeking religious freedom. Although they found this new land to be a place they could worship freely, they also found a land where their old ways wouldn’t work. They were unprepared for the challenges they faced and more than half died in their first winter. Eventually local Native people would come to the aide of the desperate settlers and show them the ways of the land. They taught them to plant corn, build adequate housing, and other skills they needed to survive.
After one season of this knowledge sharing, the Pilgrims were ready to face their second winter in America with a full larder. To show their gratitude these Englishmen invited a handful of Native people to join them in a feast of Thanksgiving. Not only were the crops of the Pilgrims used, but Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoags, sent out his men to bring food from the forest. They returned burdened with deer, birds, fish, and crops. The ensuing three day feast would go down in history as The First Thanksgiving.
Interestingly though, this grand celebration was not the actual first Thanksgiving in America. Taken at its core the Thanksgiving holiday is just that, a time to give thanks for the many blessings we are granted. In truth people had been giving thanks for many generations in formal ceremonies and holidays. The Wampanoags for example held six separate thanksgiving ceremonies at different times of the year. They gave thanks for various harvests, planting, and for the year itself. Rather than setting aside one day a year to profess thanks, the practice of recognizing simple blessings became an almost year round custom to those people.
Native Americans were not the only people in the world who paused to give thanks. Puritans had been performing similar rituals in the old world for much of the same reasons. So the first thanksgiving was not the first time either Europeans or Native Americans had given thanks, and certainly wouldn’t be the last. Although this first peaceful feast between nations was short lived, the core idea of the celebration is something we can take to heart.
In my eyes the great lesson of the First Thanksgiving is a guiding principle we can learn from. Give thanks for what you have and realize where all your blessings flow from. Although Thanksgiving will forever be enshrined as a national holiday we celebrate once a year, hopefully you can realize the professing of thanks can, and should, extend beyond just this one day. One part of this is recognizing all of the small gifts God leaves lying around and learning to make the most of them.
Hopefully you’ll enjoy friends, family, and good food this Thanksgiving. With luck you’ll also wake up on Black Friday with the same sense of “thank you” for the blessings you have. In a world where we are pushed more and more into believing we have less and less its times like Thanksgiving to reflect on reality.