Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.
Thanksgiving in the U.S. is often traced to a 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was likely prompted by a good harvest. Puritan immigrants, Pilgrims who fled England for religious reasons in the 1620s and 1630s brought the traditions of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving. They were helped in their survival by the Wampanoag native Americans.
The Wampanoag native people were expert hunters, fishers and farmers who had lived for centuries in the part of North America which is now Massachusetts. Their religion, Spiritualism, which was a worship of the earth, also taught them to show hospitality to strangers and to care for those who were helpless or hungry. The very first Thanksgiving was a Native American feast of hospitality to the Puritan immigrants.
These Pilgrims wanted to build a plantation, and so they invited the Wampanoag to negotiate a treaty. The Wampanoag were powerful, and so they were treated gently until more ships arrived and the balance of power shifted to the Pilgrims. The Wampanoag brought the majority of the food for the feast at that first Thanksgiving.
However, within the next 15 years, the Puritans were slaughtering these Indians, and selling some of them into slavery. The picture of Thanksgiving that we have today, usually portrays the Pilgrims serving the Wampanoag rather than the way it actually happened. We can’t change the course of events in the 17th century, but it is important to remember that the Pilgrims did not have the food to feed their guests on that first Thanksgiving. It was in fact, the Indians who fed the Pilgrims.
Thanksgiving today tends to be a time to simply give thanks for all we have. However, maybe this Thanksgiving we can take a moment to give thanks for the First Native Americans that lived on this land for countless generations before the Pilgrims arrived, and who shared generously with the earliest immigrants from England.
We can surely pray and give thanks for family, home and all that we have, just as President George Washington proclaimed in 1789, “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” Meister Eckhart once said, “If the only prayer you ever prayed was ‘Thank you,’ it would be enough.” And maybe we can imagine a kinder, gentler way to relate to pilgrims who seek refuge in our land today.
Almighty God our Father, your generous goodness comes to us new every day. By the work of your Spirit lead us to acknowledge your goodness, give thanks for your benefits, and serve you in willing obedience, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
- What does the Thanksgiving Holiday mean to you and your family and how do you celebrate it?
- How can you make Thanksgiving a Holiday of remembering what God has done for you and offer to God your thanks by sharing with those who are in need?
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.