The real depth of the first Thanksgiving is pretty hard for me to imagine. I am blessed with a paycheck that comes regularly every two weeks. We have a fridge and a pantry and a grocery store that are each fully stocked. We are surrounded by hundreds or thousands or maybe even millions of other people who would help us if we really needed it. None of those things were true for the Pilgrims of 1621. They had left their homeland to live in Holland so that they could be free to worship how they chose. And then they left Holland to travel to an unfamiliar, untamed land. They were truly strangers and pilgrims in an alien, hostile land. Their gratitude that harvest time was deep! And they truly understood what it meant to be a “pilgrim.”
Have you ever wondered where these people got their nickname? By most accounts, the name originated from William Bradford’s work Of Plymouth Plantation. Bradford described the scene as the Pilgrims got ready to leave Holland and depart for the new world:
And the time being come that they must depart, they were accompanied with most of their brethren out of the city…where the ship lay ready to receive them. So they left that goodly and pleasant city which had been their resting place near twelve years; but they knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lift[ed] up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.
The Plimoth Plantation Organization points out that the Pilgrims would have been reading from the 1599 Geneva Bible. With that knowledge, let’s read a well-known passage from Hebrews 11:
All these died in faith, and received not the promises, but saw them afar off, and believed them, and received them thankfully, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Hebrews 11:13-16 (GNV)
So, the Biblical heroes of faith were pilgrims on this earth, and the settlers of the 1600’s were pilgrims in a new land.
But remember, we too are pilgrims. We walk by faith, not by sight. This world is not our home.
On this day of family, food, and football, this is a great opportunity to reflect on our country’s founding pioneers and the God who they loved. We have so much to be thankful for.
Plimoth Foundation: Thanksgiving History
Plimoth Foundation: The Faith of the Pilgrims
History Channel Video: Thanksgiving History
History Channel Video: Bet You Didn’t Know
Pilgrim Hall Museum: Original Accounts of the First Thanksgiving
Religious Roots of Thanksgiving: http://www.pilgrimhallmuseum.org/giving_thanks.htm
Jews For Jesus: Interesting Hanukkah/Thanksgiving article
Photo Credit: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe