Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pause The Publicity - Why Do We Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Well folks, it’s that time of year again! Bustling with busy buyers, Wal-Mart swarms with those hunting out the ingredients to their famous Thanksgiving dinner. Aunts, uncles, and cousins gather at Grandma’s for the first of the holiday reunions. Festively bedecked with harvest colors, everything from the trees outside to our dining room tables sings of Fall. In the midst of all the holiday hubbub, does America remember the real reason for Turkey Day? While secular education all but prevails, the true meaning of Thanksgiving is often lost amid the fads of advertisers and those who would re-write history.

We know the Pilgrims had something to do with this holiday, right? Let’s remind ourselves where the story actually begins.
Because of their faith, the Pilgrims were compelled to flee to Holland to avoid the persecution in England. Having lived in Holland for twelve years, life remained a struggle, and their values were often infringed upon. Their faith in God once more prompted them to move – not only to search for a better, freer life, but to fulfill the Great Commission. “They cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making some way towards it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.”* Prepared for a new set of challenges, the Pilgrims moved by faith yet again, this time to a land unknown and uncivilized.
Challenges came soon enough. They landed at Plymouth on December 15, 1620 after months of seasickness aboard the Mayflower. Just in time for the New World’s harsh winter, the Pilgrims scurried to build what frail shelters they could. Provisions were low. Bodies weakened. Severe conditions took their toll. “In two or three month’s time half of their company died, partly owing to the severity of the winter…partly to scurvy and other diseases.” A testament to their faith in God, the Pilgrims never succumbed to the weight of those hardships, and the few who remained unscathed by illness selflessly cared for their infirm friends. “…and all this they did willingly and cheerfully, without the least grudging, showing their love to the friends and brethren…”
Though half their number died that winter, prospects began to brighten with the arrival of spring. In 1621, the Pilgrims met a friend who would prove essential to their survival. Squanto taught them how to hunt, how to fish, and how to plant, among many other vital skills. Providentially, an abundant harvest followed a successful summer, and plentiful provisions promised security for the upcoming winter. Overflowing with gratitude, the Pilgrims hosted a celebration of thanksgiving. Invited to join the festivities, their Indian friends arrived ready to celebrate with more food and fun games. While the Pilgrims were thankful to their Indian friends for their all they had done, more than anything, they were thankful to their Heavenly Father. Without His guidance, protection, and Spirit, they never would have sailed to America, lasted the winter, or made friends with Squanto and the Indians. Many more hard times would follow for the Pilgrims, but in everything, they continued to give thanks to God. “And thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, and to bless their outgoings and incomings, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity.”
Many Americans have lost sight of the true spirit of “Turkey Day,” degrading it to nothing more than the celebration of a massive meal. Regrettably, the true story of the Pilgrims has been maimed. Much of the curriculum in our public school system states that the Pilgrims gave the feast in thanks to the Indians. Some even spread the outrageous lie that the Pilgrims were cruel to Squanto and his friends. However, it’s obvious from the words of the Pilgrims themselves that their devotion and gratitude was given to God alone. As you get wrapped up in the excitement of this festive holiday, don’t forget the true reason we pause once a year to give thanks.

* All quotes taken from William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation


Anonymous said...

Heres an alternate take on the true meaning of Thanksgiving. I post this in the hope that you will take the time to read it. You probably will not agree.
But I took the time to read what you wrote. I ask that you give this a read in exchange.

Some excepts:

While it was true that some of the Mayflower passengers were English Puritans attempting to find a place to practice their religion without persecution, more than half of the colonists were not Puritans. Moreover, in order to be able to travel to this "New World," the colonists had to secure the backing of a joint-stock company whose investors expected a return on their investment.

Plymouth was both a profit-making venture and an outpost of English imperialism. There had been a spate of colonizing efforts by England in the region, in competition with other European powers Spain, France and Holland. England, like its competitors, aimed to claim this "New World" and its riches by any means necessary, including the outright extermination of entire peoples.

True, an Indian named Squanto did teach the Pilgrims how to plant corn and saved the invaders from total starvation. What we aren't told is that Squanto learned English because he had been abducted and made a slave in Europe some years before, and the place where he taught the new settlers to plant corn was the village he had grown up in, Patuxet, now depopulated by the impact of European diseases.

The colonists planted their first crops in an abandoned field cleared by Indians, and found the area strewn with the bleached bones of dead Indians, which the surviving ones, having fled elsewhere, were unable to bury.

The Pilgrims' relations with the first Indians they encountered were not initially friendly; short of provisions, the Pilgrims stole corn from a granary of the Nauset Indians, and later robbed a grave and some Indian houses they stumbled across.

In 1621, the Plymouth colonies' military commander, Captain Miles Standish, ambushed and massacred a group of eight Massachusetts Indians north of Plymouth in order to set an example to those who might consider challenging the Plymouth settlement. "This sudden and unexpected execution," wrote colonist Edward Winslow, "hath so terrified and amazed them...they forsook their in swamps...and so brought manifold diseases amongst themselves, whereof very many are dead."

After this incident, the invaders acquired a new name among the indigenous people: "Wotowquenange," meaning stabbers or cutthroats.

Some 64 years after the colonists feasted with Massassoit, in 1675, Metacomet, known by the Pilgrims as "King Philip," fought a war of resistance against the New England colonists. At the war's end, 600 were killed and 1,200 houses burned in the English side; 3,000 Indians were killed, many of them victims of outright massacres by the colonists. Survivors were sold into slavery.

Philip was finally hunted down and eventually murdered. The colonists displayed Philip's head on a pole in Plymouth, where it remained for 25 years.

Nicki said...

This is my absolute favorite holiday. And I rank the Pilgrims up there with the Colonial Founding Fathers, for without their sacrifice, there would not be a Revolution, or a Declaration of Independence. Their faith in God and willingness to endure tremendous hardship constantly inspire me to thank God for my freedom.

And I love "Of Plymouth Plantation." You can't get much more accurate information than from the writings of the people who lived it!

Nicki said...


Most of what you said is actually written about by Bradford and other pilgrims. I've read many accounts that echo your comments.

No one is a saint, and the Pilgrms certainly did not claim to be perfect. Similarly, Christopher Columbus was used by God to bring attention to the "New World" despite his shortcomings of greed and desire for fame. God uses many different personalities, all of them sinful, to accomplish his purposes. The Pilgrims were no different.

Anonymous said...

I think its the other way around. I don't think it was a matter of God using sinful people to accomplish his purposes. It was sinful people using God to cover and paper over their vile deeds in an attempt to justify their actions.

Plus these people doing these horrible things in the name of God and Christ didn't have a very good
effect for the Public Relations of Christianity. It turned quite a few people off. God should have chosen more reliable people who weren't hypocrites.

Liberty said...

I did take time to read that article. I recognized parts of it from some research I'd already done. I'm always willing to look at the other side of an issue.
But you're right. :) I don't agree.
First of all, we must distinguish between Pilgrims and Puritans. There is a difference. The Pilgrims were actually the Separatists. Both the Separatists and the Puritans stood against the corruption of their church in England. The Separatists decided to separate from the church completely, hence their flight to Holland, and eventually their venture to the New World. The Puritans believed that they should remain in the church and try to purify it from the inside. Eventually, they moved to the New World too.
And yes, there were those on board the Mayflower who weren’t Separatists, but “Strangers.” They were not necessarily searching for freedom of religion, but for a new land. My ancestor, Stephen Hopkins, was a “Stranger.”
Perhaps Squanto’s story is not widely known, but I am quite familiar with it. My parents made it a point to teach me his story, and I believe it is a testament to God’s providence and provision. Squanto was captured by Europeans and made a slave, and that’s how he learned English. I’m sure it was horrible, and I do not agree with the white men who made Indians (or Africans, or anyone, for that matter) slaves. How could anything good come of Squanto’s capture? When he finally returned to his home, he returned to find his entire tribe wiped out. I can’t imagine how devastating that must have been.
Let me note something here: Many Indians were wiped out because of European diseases, but how can that logically be held as something bad against the Europeans? The Europeans didn’t sail to the New World thinking, “We’re going to spread our germs and destroy the Indians!” It just happened. When I travel to places like Honduras, I have to take vaccinations, because there are diseases that the Honduran people are immune to and I am not. If I caught a disease from a Honduran and it killed me, would that be the Honduran’s fault?
Back to Squanto – I am sure he wondered what purpose his sad life would ever serve. But, God had a plan. I believe He led the Pilgrims to the very location of the extinct tribe on purpose. There were fields already cleared for them, and Squanto was there. Do you think he begrudged the Pilgrims for landing on the home of his extinct tribe? I think he was probably thankful for them. He was able to teach them how to survive. He was able to speak to them! He served a vital purpose and made lasting friendships. I love the story of Squanto, because I see it as an example of how God can take anything bad in our lives and turn it into something good.
(Sorry if I’m skipping around out of chronological order.) When the Pilgrims landed at Providence, they caught a glance of some Indians, and tried to speak to them and see if there were any others waiting in ambush, but the Indians ran away. They continued to search for the Indians the next day. They couldn’t find the Indians, but they did find mounds of sand, and under them found corn. There were no Indians to be seen. Running low on provisions, they took some of the corn. Here’s a quote from William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation:

Liberty said...

“They also found two of the Indians’ houses covered with mats, and some of the implements in them; but the people had run away and could not be seen. They also found more corn, and beans of various colours. These they brought away, intending to give them full satisfaction when they should meet with any of them, - as about six months afterwards they did.”
The Pilgrims set a good example to all settlers in the New World. Their treaty with the Indians lasted the longest of any peace treaty between whites and Natives – 50 years. Unfortunately, as the Pilgrims and Indians who initially signed the treaty began to grow old and die, their descendents (both sides) broke the treaty. During King Philips war, I’m sure white men did kill many Indians. They were warring. Do you think the Indians refrained from massacring white men? It goes both ways.
I had never heard of the Wessagusset massacre before, but I did read this about it on wikepedia. Go to this link ( and scroll till you see “Wessaguesset Massacre.” See if that account is the same as what you believe happened. Killing is never pleasant, but if that account is true, it sounds to me as if the Massasoit encouraged the Pilgrims to attack in order to prevent an attack upon their colony. At least they didn’t murder the Indians in mass. Like I said, killing is never pleasant, but it is sometimes necessary. It sounds as if the Pilgrims were fighting for survival. They were advised to do so by an Indian. And the Indians fought for survival among each other long before the Pilgrims ever arrived. And might I point out that Miles Standish, the one who led the raid, was a Stranger, not a Pilgrim.
Many Europeans who came to America did mistreat the Indians. (Look at Jamestown.) It is very unfortunate. But of all white men, I still believe the Pilgrims were the most virtuous and scrupulous in their friendships with the Indians. Criticize what whites you many, but don’t criticize the Pilgrims. They set an example to all of us in their conduct.
The Indians were not prepared for the violence of the white men? Maybe. But Europeans definitely did not introduce violence and war to the Indians. The Indians fought, massacred, and tortured each other before any European ever set foot in the New World.
In answer to your last comment…God makes no mistakes. I stand firm by my belief that God had a plan for America, and that the Pilgrims were part of the plan – a very important part! Of course, they weren’t perfect. As is the case with any person, things happened that were not part of God’s ultimate will. But that’s the beauty of God’s power and grace. He can still use us – and He WANTS to use us to accomplish His purposes! It boggles my mind that He does use sinful, imperfect people like us. But He does, because He loves us. Aren’t we all hypocrites in one way or another? God doesn’t look at that. He sees people that He loves and wants to save through grace. He has a plan for everyone’s life – mine, yours. We’re not perfect. Neither were the Pilgrims. But God used them, and they allowed themselves to be used by Him.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the Europeans didn't intentionally give the Indians diseases on purpose. Most of the time. There were instances later on where the US government gave blankets infested with smallpox germs to Indians as gifts in order to use biological warfare to wipe them out.

Is killing necessary? I thought Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword? The Europeans did not introduce war to the Indians, but they did introduce MORE war and confict. The Europeans fought and massacred each other was well before they started settling in the New World.

As for determining what is God's will: how is that done? If God is all powerful and good and detests evil, why would he allow something that's against his will to happen? Wouldn't he make it to where it always turned out the way he wants it to go? What do you think is God's plan for America?

Thanks for responding.

Liberty said...

I haven't heard about the government giving the infested blankets to the Indians, but if that's so, that's too bad.

Jesus did say that. The Bible also says this in Ecclesiastes 3:
"There is a time for everything, and everything on earth has its special season.
"There is a time to be born and a time to die...
There is a time to kill and a time to heal.
"There is a time to destroy and a time to build...
"There is a time for war and a time for peace."

You're right. Europeans fought each other for years. The Indians fought each other for years. The Africans fought and captured each other before the Muslims or the Europeans ever traded them as slaves. No culture has ever been without war and violence. That's why I think it is pointless to argue that the Europeans shocked the Indians with their violence, or introduced more violence when they came. There were plenty of unjust acts on both sides. Both people groups were used to war and fighting.

God does not make His will hard to discover. He wants us to follow His will, therefore He makes it clear to those who search for it. Think of it this way.
When you have a relationship with someone, you get to know them better overtime. Eventually you grow closer and closer to them. You reach the point where you know their heart. You are familiar with their way of thinking. So it is when we have a relationship with God. When we have a relationship with God, our hearts are more open and more prone to hear His calling, and we are gradually transformed so that we naturally reflect His heart and mind. (That's doesn't mean we're perfect - we still makes mistakes! That's where God's grace comes in.)
God's will is also found in His Word. If something is contrary to what is found in Scripture, then it is not God's will.

God is all powerful, and He does detest evil. Your question is one of the most common in the world, I think. No one can explain it perfectly, but I do know this.
While God is in control, He doesn't control everything. Of course, He could. But He chooses not to. If He controlled every little thing, we'd just be like puppets or toys. Sure, He could make us love Him. He could make us perfect all the time. But that's not what He wants. He wants a relationship with us. He loves us more than we can imagine, and He wants our love for Him to be genuine and real - not forced. A choice.
God gives us all choices. He provides us with all the strength and information we need to make the right choices. But we are sinful, so we make wrong choices. His grace is sufficient enough to cover our sins, if we choose to allow that. That's why we can never earn salvation.

I will get back to you on what I think God's plan for America is. For now, I think my reply is long enough.