This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, many retailers except food stores treat Thanksgiving as a non-holiday as they leap from Halloween to Christmas. And for many of us, after the meal and the football game its business as usual.
But there are good reasons to pause and reflect on the people and traditions that embody Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims typified examples of faith, charity and goodwill. Profiled by some writers as dour and sin-obsessed, the Pilgrims actually enjoyed celebrations and fair government. They were accustomed to sharing. And they met cultural differences with patience and understanding.
To be sure, not all colonists were as upright in their dealings as the Pilgrims. Mal-treatment of the Native Americans at Jamestown a few decades earlier is just one deplorable example. But history bespeaks the Pilgrims as a different lot. Their love for people grew from their love for Christ. And their faith compelled them to share and trade liberally with the Native Americans at Plymouth.
Convinced that their plentiful harvest in fall of 1621 came from God, the remaining 50 settlers who survived that first horrific winter hosted about 90 braves. It was a celebration of gratitude. Three days of games and feasting on venison, fowl, fish, corn, nuts, vegetables, and perhaps even berry pie.
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As further proof of their friendship, months later, Edward Winslow, the eventual governor of Plymouth, trekked through miles of wilderness to treat Chief Massasoit and a host of his villagers when they fell sick
The Pilgrims also left a political legacy. Before disembarking in the New World, they drafted the Mayflower Compact. For the first time in history, simple commoners formed a democracy-based government, the purpose being “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.”
Historian Peter Marshall writes in the Light and the Glory that during the Pilgrims’ first year at Plymouth, Gov. Carver also negotiated a peace treaty with Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoags. A treaty for “mutual aid and assistance which would be a model for many that would be made thereafter.”
Suffering through the storms of that first year and decimated in ranks, the Pilgrims still lived out what they believed. After all, they were people of “The Book”. The Psalmist wrote, “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good…,” (Ps. 106).
And so they did. Happy Thanksgiving.