By Michael Elmore
Walk through the doors of any Wal-Mart, Kmart, J. C. Penney’s or Sears today and you will see the sparkle of bright decorations adorning evergreen trees, hear the cacophony of Christmas music filling the air and have your eyes drawn to row upon row, shelf upon shelf of holiday gifts. Close by, anxious managers will be scurrying about impatiently waiting for them to be purchased.
In the world of marketing and sales, a season devoid of profits that extends between October 31st – Halloween, and December 25th - Christmas Day. It is called Thanksgiving. In the hubbub and rush of business plans and marketing ploys one of the greatest holidays of American culture has nearly vanished. In the world of cash registers dinging and carolers singing something of great significance has become lost. In some peculiar way we have lost not only the meaning of Thanksgiving but virtually the existence of the holiday itself.
In Psalm 136: 1 the Bible instructs us to “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.” In this single verse, God’s Word sets forth an imperative to be thankful. The etymology of the Old English word “thankful” means to be “thinkful”. Being “thinkful” and remembering the first celebration of Thanksgiving is an important way to awaken our slumbering spirit of thankfulness. Perhaps if we remember the religious, cultural and historical roots of Thanksgiving Day, we can re-instill a spirit of thankfulness within our thankless hearts.
Thanksgiving at Plymouth
In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers—an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth.
Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland.
In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. This day is remembered as American’s “First Thanksgiving”. 1 It is astonishing to think that after the deaths of 63 of the original Pilgrim party, these God-honoring people remembered to be thankful.
Familiar story isn’t it? Although that first Thanksgiving is an archetypical story of our American way of life it is in danger of being forgotten between two other more popular, profit-producing holidays.
It’s good to be reminded to be thankful at least once a year. So in the Spirit of the holiday, I ask that in the middle of family, feasting and football games, please take a moment and remind your children and your children’s children why this holiday is so important to us. I encourage you at the Thanksgiving table to turn yours eyes toward heaven, “from where our help comes” and give thanks to God “for his love endures forever”. Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be just another holiday; it can once again become sacred to all.
1 http://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving (Accessed November 9, 2011)
2 Please watch Chris Tomlin’s video “His Love Endures forever” at this link to further inspire a spirit of thankfulness in your heart. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVYcDOXczus