So what is it that brings out an attitude of thankfulness from the animal class in the world known within the scientific community as Homo sapiens? Homo sapiens is Latin for “the wise humans,” or “the clever humans.” Well, I would suggest that thankfulness is a divine quality that emanates directly from God. He is the one who made us so that we can experience the full range of senses and emotions that are intended to round us out as human beings. In fact, a person who lacks this quality is considered to be seriously deficient in their character. Typically a person who fails to demonstrate thankfulness is regarded as self-centered, a bore, and is probably someone who lacks the capacity for caring and being compassionate.
As you are reading this in the paper you are preparing to enjoy the pleasantries of a sumptuous feast tomorrow, no doubt to be enjoyed with family and close friends. Many prayers of thanks will be offered over golden roast turkey, mounds of mashed potatoes, bowls of beans, heapings of stuffing, generous slices of pumpkin pie with a healthy daub of whipped cream, accompanied by a freshly brewed cup of coffee. It is factored that you and I will consume roughly 3,500 calories in this one meal on Thanksgiving Day.
What were the original pilgrims thankful for way back in 1621? The main emphasis of thanks on the part of those first settlers on America’s shore was that they had managed to see some of them through a very cold winter with little in the way of food and clothing to fight against the oppressive elements. In the spring of 1621, Indians (Native Americans) approached the greatly depleted pilgrims and offered to show them how to properly plant corn and other successful agricultural methods. Later in the fall after bringing in an abundant harvest, the pilgrims invited the Indians to join them in a Harvest Celebration. The food most likely consisted of deer meat, wild turkey, and a mash of vegetables. Games and feats of skill were entered into with great relish. Settler children and Indian children taught each other the games they often played. The feasting and celebrating continued for many days, and a good time was had by all.
However, the one overarching thought on the part of the settlers was their attitude of thanks toward God for seeing them through these early challenging months in the New World. Many of the pilgrims survived the arduous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower, only to succumb to disease or illness in what was one of the coldest winters on records in 1620 at that time.
In addition to being thankful for their lives being spared, they were beginning to enjoy the reality of being a free people. They worshipped as they chose without the ever present Church of England spies reporting them to the authorities. This liberty was intoxicating, and coupled with the drafting of the Mayflower Compact by Governor William Bradford, this document was the genesis of what was to become the United States Constitution some 160 years later.
As you can see, the pilgrims were thankful for a whole different set of circumstances than we might be today, although in either case the thanks should be directed to God. The Bible instructs us to approach God always in an attitude of thanksgiving. Even in Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of 1913, the definition for Thanksgiving is, “A public acknowledgment or celebration of divine goodness; also, a day set apart for religious services, specially to acknowledge the goodness of God, either in any remarkable deliverance from calamities or danger, or in the ordinary dispensation of his bounties.” This definition seems to have had the pilgrims in mind.
It was in 1777 that General George Washington and his army were on the way to Valley Forge. They stopped in blistering weather in open fields to observe the first Thanksgiving of the newly established United States of America.
When you gather around the table consider this poem, Thanksgiving Observance (unknown author). “Count your blessings instead of your crosses; Count your gains instead of you losses. Count your joys instead of your woes; Count your friends instead of your foes. Count your smiles instead of your tears; Count your courage instead of your fears. Count your full years instead of your lean; Count your kind deeds instead of your mean. Count your health instead of your wealth; Count on God instead of yourself.”
And everyone said – Amen!