Thanksgiving is a purely American holiday. However, the present generation of Americans often show little gratitude to God. By reflecting on conditions of the first Thanksgiving, it is obvious they didn’t give thanks because thing were so good. They did it simply it because of the condition of their hearts. Dispositionally they were thankful people. People are not thankful because they give thanks. They give thanks because they are thankful. Likewise, it is not happy people who are thankful, it is thankful people who are happy.

The first Thanksgiving in America is commonly thought to have been celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621. That date and event are a vital part of our celebration. Its spiritual significance is often overlooked and even denied by some who claim the occasion was to thank the Native Americans for their support.

That, however, was not the first Thanksgiving on this continent. Before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, 38 colonists sailed from England. Poverty and overpopulation in their home of Berkeley in Gloucestershire motivated them to undertake the two and a half month sea voyage aboard the Margaret.

Their first day ashore, December 4, 1619, they gathered around Captain Woodlief who proclaimed, “We ordain that this day of our ship’s arrival, at the place assigned for plantation, in the land of Virginia, shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.” That clearly defined the object of their thanks.

They were God-fearing people, as almost all of their existing documents speak of their duties and obligations to God referred to as the “Almighty.”

Thus was settled the Berkeley Plantation on land owned by the London Company. The Pilgrims had not even left England at that time. Today the Berkeley Plantation, located on the James River, is Virginia’s most historic plantation.

While at Berkeley, known as Harrison’s Landing during the Civil War, Gen. Daniel Butterfield composed the familiar bugle call taps. A drummer-boy at the time later returned and purchased most of the land.

Our nation’s historical records make frequent reference to occasions when giving thanks became a prominent part of our culture. The first national Thanksgiving Proclamations were issued by the Continental Congress between 1777 and 1784. George Washington issued the first Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789. Incidentally, neither made reference to any Native Americans as an object of the thanks.

Abraham Lincoln’s second Thanksgiving Proclamation which was issued in 1863 is the first in the unbroken string of annual presidential Thanksgiving proclamations. It is generally considered the true beginning of the national Thanksgiving holiday.

We need to pray as President Lincoln exhorted his constituents to call for “the Almighty hand to heal and restore our Nation.”

Ours is good history, but how about present practices? We have never had more for which to be thankful. However, most of the proposals for giving thanks came in times of privation and potential peril. Make certain this present Thanksgiving contains in it an element of thanksgiving similar to the first one, and be specific as to whom it is you are giving thanks.

Make expressing thanks a trademark of your nature. Express thanks daily to friends and to the “Almighty.”

We should resolve with the psalmist, “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1).

The Rev. Dr. Nelson L. Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta.


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