The traditional Thanksgiving story is that some time in the fall of 1621, the settlers at Plymouth, Mass., held a feast to thank God they'd survived their harrowing first year in the New World.
They invited neighboring Indians, who had taught them agricultural skills critical to their survival. Together they celebrated their good fortune with a three-day feast.
There is a problem with the traditional story - no one invited the Indians.
The settlers threw the party for themselves. Members of the local Wampanoag tribe arrived only after hearing the English firing their arms in celebration. This view may be historically accurate.
A firsthand account of the original Thanksgiving is provided in "Mourt's Relations," a series of letters written in 1620 and 1621, primarily by settler Edward Winslow.
He writes of a harvest celebration, "at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor."
Actually, the harvest of 1621 wasn't great at all. The barley, wheat, and peas the Pilgrims brought with them from England had failed. Fortunately, the corn did well enough that they were able to double their weekly food rations. The Pilgrims were happy to be alive: The previous winter had wiped out 47 people--almost half their community.
What people are thankful for changes from year to year. The Pilgrims were happy to be alive. The Founding Fathers were happy to have established a government. And Lincoln's Thanksgiving proclamation expressed thanks that the Civil War had not destroyed the country.
On January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed Congress. His "Four Freedoms" offered a vision in which the American ideals of individual liberties were extended throughout the world:
Four FreedomsThe speech inspired Norman Rockwell to create a series of paintings on the "Four Freedoms," including "Freedom From Want."We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way-- everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want . . . everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear . . . anywhere in the world.
In his Thanksgiving Day, 2007 Proclamation, President Bush reminds us that we have much to be thankful for:
Americans are a grateful people, ever mindful of the many ways we have been blessed. On Thanksgiving Day, we lift our hearts in gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy, the people we love, and the gifts of our prosperous land.As we gather together with family friends and family, let's take a few minutes and contemplate our many blessings and give thanks.
Our country was founded by men and women who realized their dependence on God and were humbled by His providence and grace. The early explorers and settlers who arrived in this land gave thanks for God's protection and for the extraordinary natural abundance they found. Since the first National Day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed by President George Washington, Americans have come together to offer thanks for our many blessings. We recall the great privilege it is to live in a land where freedom is the right of every person and where all can pursue their dreams. We express our deep appreciation for the sacrifices of the honorable men and women in uniform who defend liberty. As they work to advance the cause of freedom, our Nation keeps these brave individuals and their families in our thoughts, and we pray for their safe return.
While Thanksgiving is a time to gather in a spirit of gratitude with family, friends, and neighbors, it is also an opportunity to serve others and to share our blessings with those in need. By answering the universal call to love a neighbor as we want to be loved ourselves, we make our Nation a more hopeful and caring place.
This Thanksgiving, may we reflect upon the past year with gratefulness and look toward the future with hope. Let us give thanks for all we have been given and ask God to continue to bless our families and our Nation.
Image courtesy of the National Achieves.