By Allan Wall, November 24, 2021
Thanksgiving is a popular autumn holiday during which American families gather, eat turkey, and give thanks to God.
Thanksgiving 2021 is the 400th anniversary of the First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621.
Nowadays, American holidays are being questioned, redefined, or criticized.
It is therefore important to be knowledgeable about these holidays and understand them in the context of American history and culture.
One thing you may hear this time of year is that the First Thanksgiving wasn’t really the First Thanksgiving.
The critics will bring up another thanksgiving observance celebrated somewhere before 1621. Bingo! They’ve just debunked Thanksgiving Day!
Or have they?
These critics are missing the point, confusing the action of thanksgiving with Thanksgiving Day.
Giving thanks to God has been practiced throughout human history. It’s in the Bible.
Thanksgiving is a theme of the Old Testament book of Psalms.
In the New Testament, I Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
The concept of thanksgiving doesn’t belong to any particular culture or country.
What we call Thanksgiving Day in the United States is a particular thanksgiving custom, based on the Thanksgiving feast of the Pilgrims at the Plymouth colony in 1621.
And that was 400 years ago.
The United States was formed from a loose collection of English Colonies on the eastern seaboard, which began to be settled in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia, followed by the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1620, and various other colonies — all the way to Georgia in 1733.
That’s why we have 13 bars on the flag, representing these colonies which were the foundation of our country. Colonial history is part of American history.
Of all English colonial groups, the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony are the most famous, probably because of Thanksgiving. Historian Samuel Eliot Morison called the Pilgrims “the spiritual ancestors of all Americans.”
The story of the Pilgrims is an inspiring one. They faced danger and endured hardship, yet they successfully established a colony which became a building block of our nation.
Arriving to Massachusetts in late 1620, they suffered many trials and half of them died.
But by the fall of 1621, things were getting better for the Pilgrims.
So, in the fall of 1621, they held a three-day feast and celebration we call the First Thanksgiving. Their guests were their allies, the Wampanoag Indians, who still live in Massachusetts today.
Two Pilgrims have left descriptions of the First Thanksgiving for us.
William Bradford, who was governor of the colony for 30 years, detailed the plentiful situation in Plymouth before the First Thanksgiving in his journal called Of Plimoth Plantation.
Bradford writes that the colonists were “all well-recovered in health and strength, and had all things in good plenty…”
In addition to the crops they had sown and harvested, they caught many fish. Bradford specifically mentions cod and bass.
The wild game included water fowl, “wild Turkies,” and venison — the meat of a deer.
So you see, they must have had turkey at the First Thanksgiving! And even today, many Americans go deer hunting at this time of year.
Edward Winslow, another leading Plymouth colonist, who also served a few terms as governor, described the First Thanksgiving in Mourt’s Relation:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor [Bradford] sent four men on fowling, that we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor…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…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.”
Happy 400th Anniversary Thanksgiving!
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