When we think of the first Thanksgiving, we conjure up images of the fifty-one surviving Pilgrims and ninety Native Americans feasting after the 1621 fall harvest. Though they never called it Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims were indeed thankful and became the model for our Thanksgivings today.
But why were they so thankful? To whom were they thankful? Would we have been thankful in similar circumstances?
Over one hundred Pilgrims and Strangers had traveled across the ocean on the Mayflower, the Pilgrims in search of a place in which they could practice their faith without losing their children to the surrounding culture. The trip was treacherous. There were storms and winds. Sea-sickness, intestinal disorders and foul smells abounded. Personality conflicts were bound to happen in cramped quarters when people weren’t feeling well. A couple even died along the way.
Arriving in Massachusetts in November was unfortunate timing at best. It was long past the growing season, and shelter needed to be set up quickly. Originally supposed to have landed at an existing settlement in Virginia, they were now on their own far to the North. That first winter, half their number passed away. Life was hard. Yet half remained, and they found room in their hearts for gratitude to God. The following autumn, they rejoiced and feasted in what we call the first Thanksgiving with the Native Americans who had aided them. I suspect that they may have possessed a better character than I.
I often wonder how we can have so much and yet raise young people who think life is unfair when they can’t have the latest and greatest fashions and toys. I’m guilty too. Far too often, I complain when I ought to praise.
At one point when my children were rather young and I was worn down from the constancy of their needs, it occurred to me that my attitude was counterproductive. I decided it was time for a change. At night as I collapsed into bed exhausted, I recounted my blessings to God. Thank You, Lord for one more day. Thank You, Lord for giving me these children to love. Thank You, Lord, that I had food to feed them today. Thank You, Lord, that I had the physical capacity to meet their needs today. Thank You, Lord, that we have shelter and warmth. Thank You, Lord, for loving me and caring for me no matter what.
It’s amazing what a change of focus can do for a person. The Scriptures teach us to give thanks to God and to maintain a heart of thanksgiving. Sometimes I forget that. I suppose some people might balk at commands to praise and give thanks to God and think God is a self-centered being to demand our praise and gratitude. Yet it’s not for His sake, but for our own as He hardly needs our attention. As we focus on Him and become more thankful, we benefit. We become healthier and happier. We become more generous and helpful to others. Our relationships become more peaceful and loving.
Apparently one need not be a Christian to practice thanksgiving. One relative of mine does not claim to be a Christian, yet she keeps a journal of thanksgiving in which she recounts her blessings on a regular basis. I wonder if this practice has a foundation in the Christian faith in which she was raised even if she doesn’t completely practice it now. Regardless, she is one of the most generous, giving people I know. I think there is a connection between her focus and her generosity.
I think it is time this Thanksgiving and Christmas season for me to refocus. I want to return to my “no whining” stance (or at least decrease my current level of whining) and increase my practice of gratitude and thankfulness. Perhaps I will start by reinstating our “tell us what you’re thankful for” rounds at Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps I’ll return to my habit of recounting my blessings when I lay in bed at the end of the day.
Perhaps you’ll join me?
A link if you're interested: Pilgrim Hall Museum
Blogging Chicks carnival will be hosted today at Suspension of Disbelief.