400 Years of Thanksgiving in America
“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessings…” So opens a great hymn of thanksgiving that is often sung at Thanksgiving, the 400th anniversary of which is this year. The Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621.
We have had 400 years of Thanksgiving in America, and thanks to Presidents Washington (who declared the first national day of Thanksgiving) and Lincoln (who made it a yearly event), we even celebrate it as an annual holiday. But some on the left think we need to change Thanksgiving to a time of mourning.
Fox News (11/21/21) writes: “Several American universities are participating in an event asking whether Americans should ‘reconsider’ the Thanksgiving holiday. The alumni associations of the University of Maryland, Florida Gulf Coast University, Washington State University, University of Central Arkansas, Hiram College in Ohio and California State University, Long Beach are participating.”
The anti-Thanksgiving event organizers note: “Starting in 1970, many Americans, led by Indigenous protesters, believed that Thanksgiving should be rededicated as a National Day of Mourning to reflect the centuries-long displacement and persecution of Native Americans….Should Americans reconsider Thanksgiving when wrestling with our country’s complicated past?”
The Wall Street Journal had an editorial (11/22/21), “Censoring the Pilgrims”: “No doubt it was only a matter of time. The progressives have come for our annual Thanksgiving editorials. They won’t succeed, but we thought we’d share the tale with readers for an insight into the politicization of everything, even Thanksgiving,”
I find it fascinating that historical revisionists would target the Pilgrims to lay blame for terrible things that happened to the Indians in later generations.
Horrible things did happen to the Native Americans long after the Pilgrims settled Plymouth. But that’s like blaming all car accidents on Henry Ford, who made cars accessible to the masses.
For Providence Forum—founded by Dr. Peter Lillback, and for which I serve as the executive director—I made a film, “The Pilgrims,” just in time for the 400th anniversary of Plymouth and of the first Thanksgiving. The film includes comments from Dennis Prager, Alveda King, and others, including Rev. Billy Falling, a Native American pastor and author.
In the film, we point out that in later eras, European settlers, as well as Americans, mistreated Native Americans in grave miscarriages of justice. But in doing so, they were not at all following the Christian example of the Pilgrims.
Rev. Falling says, “The Pilgrims did have good relations with the Indians. The Pilgrims were kind to the Indians, they showed them love, they showed them compassion, they showed them the godly way to live.”
Through the help of Squanto, an English-speaking Indian who befriended the Pilgrims and who taught them how to survive in New England, the Pilgrims made a treaty of peace with the Indians which lasted for more than half a century.
When they had the first Thanksgiving after the fall harvest, they invited the Indians, celebrating together for three days.
The Pilgrim leaders made sure that no land was sold until the Indian chief, Massasoit, approved of it first.
Falling also told me, “As a Native-American, I thank God for the Europeans that brought us the Gospel and brought us Western civilization. We owe everything to those who brought us civilization and brought us out of the cannibalism, the slavery, and out of all of the sins of the flesh that were practiced in the day, just like the heathen of the world.”
Falling added, “It’s hard today to find a ‘sweat’ where you can go as a Native American and go inside and smoke out your sins, but it’s easy to find Native Americans in any congregation in the United States, worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ because of the Europeans. And I thank God for that.”
Our film also notes, “The Pilgrims had an exemplary relationship with the Indians for decades. When an Indian had been murdered by three Englishmen, and those Englishmen were put on trial, the Indians expected merely a charade, a show-trial. In short, they expected a miscarriage of justice.” But instead when these Europeans were put on trial for killing an Indian, they were found guilty and hanged.
Leo Martin, the founder of the Jenney Center (a museum) in Plymouth, says in the documentary: “Now, the Indians could trust the Pilgrims. [The Pilgrims] were people of character and integrity, who stood by their word.”
The key to the Pilgrims’ success in surviving and thriving was looking to God for all things and thanking Him for them. God has given us so much. How fitting it is to give Him thanks.
The hymn “We Gather Together” has a later line that observes, “So from the beginning, the fight we were winning, Thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be Thine.” Happy Thanksgiving!