Thanksgiving is a time to remember the ways in which the Lord has blessed us. It’s a time to reflect on where we are, and how we got there. In this spirit, we offer the following commentary by CWA National Field Director Barbara Plating. It is taken from Barbara’s December 2004 Prayer Action Leaders Memo (PALM), the regular update to leaders of CWA prayer chapters.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year. It’s to important to recall the history behind it as we celebrate with family and friends and give thanks to God.
When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth on that fateful day in November 1620, little did they know they would set a pattern in motion that would bless this land from “sea to shining sea.”
William Bradford, Pilgrim historian and governor, wrote the following about their arrival in his book Of Plymouth Plantation: “Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element. And no marvel if they were thus joyful.”
Bradford continued to wonder at “this poor people’s present condition no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weather-beaten bodies, no houses, or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor.
“Whichever way they turned their eyes (save upward to the heavens) they could have little solace or content in respect of any outward objects. For summer being done, all things stand upon them with a weather-beaten face; and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hue. If they looked behind them, there was the mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar and gulf to separate them from what weak hope of supply and succor they left behind them. What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace?”
Indeed, the Lord did sustain them. Sixteen men were sent from the ship to gather firewood that cold November day. Along with the firewood, the men found an abandoned cache of corn buried in a large iron pot. This was their introduction to the food that would later save their lives. It reminded Bradford of the Israelites when they sent spies into the Promised Land and returned with abundant fruit.
During their first fall in the new land, the Pilgrims harvested a bounty that was cause for a celebration. They shared that bounty with the Indians around them. For three days, the Pilgrims hosted Indian Chief Massasoit and 90 of his tribe of the Wampanoag, as well as the lone Patuxent Indian Squanto, whom the Pilgrims likened to a latter-day Joseph.
Squanto was a fierce Patuxent Indian who had been captured and taken to England by Capt. George Weymouth. Squanto learned English so he could provide critical information to help the English establish colonies in the best locations. After nine years in Europe, he returned to New England, where he was again captured and taken to Spain to be sold into slavery. Rescued by local friars, who taught him to know Jesus Christ as his Savior, Squanto soon attached himself to an Englishman bound for London. He had returned to his homeland a mere six months before the Pilgrims arrived.
Finding the land deserted by his tribe, Squanto wandered aimlessly and was befriended by Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoags. He stayed with the tribe through the winter. The following spring, Samoset, chief of the Algonquins, discovered the Pilgrims and sent for Squanto and Massasoit to meet with them. When the Pilgrims learned Squanto’s story, they realized that God had prepared him through slavery-like Joseph-to save them from famine. Squanto taught the Pilgrims to fish, stalk deer, plant corn and pumpkins. He taught them about herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes and other things necessary to survive in the new land.
Squanto learned from Samoset that a mysterious plague had killed his tribe four years earlier. Fear had kept other Indians from settling the land, making it the only safe ground in that part of the country for the Pilgrims to settle.
The Pilgrims celebrated their first Thanksgiving with an abundance of food, but later that fall there were more mouths to feed as others arrived from England. This began to deplete the stores of food and during the Pilgrims’ second winter; they were ultimately reduced to a ration of five kernels of corn per day. Through all of these trials, they shared what they had and cared for the sick left in their care. They continued to trust in the Lord who never abandoned them.
In future Thanksgivings, the Pilgrims would place five kernels of corn on their plates to remind them of that second severe winter, which tested their faith doubly. The Pilgrims focused on giving thanks as a way of life.
I will extol You, my God, O King; and I will bless Your name forever and ever. Everyday I will bless You, and I will praise Your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts. I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works. (Psalm 145:1-6)