After enduring religious persecution in their native England and for twelve years in Holland, the pilgrims sailed for America. They were modest men and women with a great hope and inward zeal. They rested in the providence of God that He was leading them to a land of religious freedom to advance the gospel of the kingdom of Christ.
The voyage of the Mayflower took twice as long as Christopher Columbus’ voyage, enduring several wintry storms. After arriving in their new land, they faced disease, famine, bitter cold and many dangers. However, when the Mayflower made its return voyage, none of the pilgrims returned with it.
Their first harvest occurred in the autumn of 1621. Their own seed had barely grown, but the Indians had shown them how to plant corn which yielded a huge harvest. On the first Thanksgiving, they celebrated God’s goodness to them with a party of ninety Indians.
Their Thanksgiving feast lasted three days and included a festival of sports. Their Thanksgiving feast became an American tradition.
Testifying to the strong religious foundation of this country, thanking God for His blessings was a routine experience in our early years. The first official National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was issued by the Continental Congress on November 1, 1777 in celebration of the victory against the British at the Battle of Saratoga.
In his Thanksgiving Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln wrote:
Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may be then, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe.
And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid, that on the occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust, and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the great Disposer of events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling-place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.
In 1941, as America confronted a world at war, Congress voted to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. And, in his first Thanksgiving proclamation as president, Ronald Reagan wrote:
America has much for which to be thankful. The unequaled freedom enjoyed by our citizens has provided a harvest of plenty to this Nation throughout its history. In keeping with America’s heritage, one day each year is set aside for giving thanks to God for all of His blessings.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving … we should reflect on the full meaning of this day as we enjoy the fellowship that is so much a part of the holiday festivities. Searching our hearts, we should ask what we can do as individuals to demonstrate our gratitude to God for all He has done. Such reflection can only add to the significance of this precious day of remembrance.
Let us recommit ourselves to that devotion to God and family that has played such an important role in making this a great Nation, and which will be needed as a source of strength if we are to remain a great people.
The true Thanksgiving story is one worth telling again and again. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving… be thankful unto Him, and bless His name. Psalm 100:4
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