There have been many instances of people stopping to give thanks to God throughout history, but they often took place on already designated days. However, after the pilgrims ventured across the sea in the Mayflower in 1620, they landed after their two month arduous travel. There were so many storms that they rarely if ever got to see the deck. The storms also ensured they were off course and landed far north of their Virginian objective.
They landed on Plymouth Rock in the dead of winter. Forty-six of them died that winter.
Their trials were not over, however. In spite of assistance from Squanto, a native English-speaking Indian that happened to be in the right place at the right time, there was a drought that following summer. They prayed and fasted for a bountiful harvest, promised a celebration of thanksgiving after the harvest, and God sent the rain.
This celebration was not just a one-day event. For three days, they played games and feasted on the harvest, deer and various birds. The venison was provided by the Wamponoag Indians, who the settlers had invited to the event. However, what we traditionally view as that “first Thanksgiving” was not really the main event! While the Pilgrims were quite religious, this was a predominantly secular event. The real “Thanksgiving” was done probably just prior to the feast and directly after the harvest.
It was not meant to be an annual event, either. The pilgrims were used to regular thanksgiving events, which may be held after the end of a significant event such as drought (which would have been the case in this first one). However, the Jamestown colony interestingly enough did establish an annual thanksgiving to commemorate the founding of the colony on 14 May 1607. Those who claim the Pilgrims never had annual days for giving thanks need to study their history without their pagan filters on.
This points out that throughout much of the early American history, there were various state and local celebrations of thanksgiving for various events at different times. There was no one standard, even after the initial Plymouth Rock event, and even there it was not deemed a regular annual event.
However, the Pilgrims did, contrary to some reports, hold another Thanksgiving in 1623. Farming had become privatized that year. They once again held a fast, and the resulting fourteen day rain made an even larger harvest than the previous one. This date of Thanksgiving was likely 30 July 1623. This celebration was actually called by civil authorities, not by the religious authorities.
The Pilgrims continued their tradition of fasting when events turned against them and thanksgiving when they perceived Providence had smiled upon them, but most of these events were religious in nature, requiring church attendance.
The Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War was the first to proclaim an actual national day of thanksgiving for 18 December 1777. George Washington followed suit with a proclamation of thanksgiving in December to celebrate the victory over the British at Saratoga.
President George Washington also declared a Day of Thanksgiving in 1789, in November following the going into effect of the United States Constitution.
In spite of all of this, there were no regular federal directives about a national day of thanksgiving for quite some time. It wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln that this actually occurred. The Civil War had taken its toll upon the President, and then he had lost his son. However, it wasn’t until he toured Gettysburg and saw thousands of graves of dead soldiers that he realized just how needed was the healing of God upon the land.
He had gotten the idea from Sarah Joseph Hale, who had campaigned for a national day of thanksgiving for thirty years. She felt that the original sentiment of giving thanks to God as the Pilgrims did was needed in this land, and even more so after such a bloody conflict. She had introduced the ideas of turkey, pumpkin pie and potatoes, things that the Pilgrims would not have been able to have had at their feast.
There are some parallels between what the Pilgrims saw as liberation from the Church of England and what Israel experienced leaving Egypt. Many settlers of the New World, Pilgrims and Puritans alike, viewed this New World as a type of Israel. For those in the COG, that should not be any great surprise. Some historians have linked these ideas to draw a parallel between the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkot, and Thanksgiving. The evidence is very scant, however, and the very fact that it was not an annual celebration discounts this almost entirely.
Even if it were, though, that means they were basing the idea upon their understanding of a biblical principle and not from pagan ideas and religions. There is absolutely no evidence to support the theory that Thanksgiving Day has pagan roots. In spite of the secular feast where the Pilgrims invited the Indians to the feast, it was a civil celebration at that point. Nonetheless, the core of the holiday is not pagan and does not involve the worship of other gods. Easter and Christmas, however, are pagan to the core and were originally based upon the worship of false gods.
If it were truly meant to be a day to give thanks to God, then it should not be surprising that there are references to giving thanks to God and to the Bible. The Bible, in fact, is full of praise given at various times for various things. There is no one set time to give thanks. That’s why we see past thanksgivings taking place in May, July (a more natural month if it truly were meant to be a “harvest festival”) and December as well as November. It should be no shock that campaigns for it would be full of religious imagery from the Bible as well.
Seriously? Are some people so wrapped up in a biter attitude that they have to invent reasons to not celebrate a holiday with at least tenuous biblical connections and free from pagan ones?
The notion that an additional holiday takes away from understanding God’s plan is a lot like condemning Purim, Feast of Dedication (aka “Hanukkah”). Both of these holidays are held in remembrance of historical events that God played a part in, something which Thanksgiving Day does. The Book of Esther existed long before Jesus came on the scene, so it’s difficult to imagine that He would not have participated in it (not sure He would in the present time, but that’s another story). He certainly did go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication (Jn 10:22). If Thanksgiving is wrong, then so are these, and if these are wrong, then Christ is a sinner, and if Christ is a sinner, we are all dead in our sins!
The Thanksgiving holiday is uniquely American. Even Canada traces theirs back to 1578 when a group looking for the Northwest Passage ran into trouble and gave thanks to God for deliverance. Canada has its Thanksgiving in October, and although with a somewhat different origin has some of the same customs due to British loyalists fleeing the United States after the Revolutionary War.
A lack of gratitude marks the end times (2Ti 3:2). Gratitude is the antidote to pride. “Proud” is another adjective in the same verse, which pretty much describes a lot of COG critics. The Bible does not say that sometimes pride causes strife. It says contention is only caused by pride.
10 Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.
~ Pr 13:10
The truth is that if you look hard enough, you’ll find something to quarrel and argue about. If you look hard enough, you’ll find something “pagan”. If you cannot find something pagan, then something can be made up! Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and those determined to find fault and criticize others will find a way.
It was the super-religious who found fault with Jesus, after all, to the point where they had Him killed.
- Wikipedia article “Thanksgiving (United States)”
- ChristianAnswers.Net article “What is the origin of America’s annual Thanksgiving Day?”
- History video “Bet You Didn’t Know; Thanksgiving”
- Thanksgiving Day website article “Origin of Thanksgiving Day”
- Gordon Franz, “Jesus Celebrated Purim”