Most of our Thanksgiving Day traditions seem to come from those Massachusetts Pilgrims and 1622. That’s always been annoying to me; the first Thanksgiving was at Berkeley Plantation, Virginia, in 1619. I had Virginia history 3 times in my elementary and high school years, and they taught us this stuff. In fact, all US history is really Virginia history since the original claim for the Virginia Colony was from sea to sea and pole to pole! Those pesky Pilgrims of Plymouth simply had a better press agent!
You know the story; 103 of 158 of the original Massachusetts colonists died the very first winter. The Pilgrims managed to survive (good ol' Squanto) and the bountiful harvest that next fall ensured the continued survival of the colony. So Gov. William Bradford declared that a festival of thanksgiving be observed to God. This Thanksgiving festival became an annual event in Massachusetts by 1690, but it didn’t become the recurring national Thanksgiving Day holiday until Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it so in 1863.
And perhaps this is the trouble with Thanksgiving for many of us today. The first Thanksgivings took place following tremendous struggle after a devastating winter almost destroyed the colony. The first national Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed in the middle of the devastating tragedy of the Civil War. Our Thanksgiving Day today retains many of the forms and traditions, but few have to do with same struggle! Thanksgiving is our day to eat ourselves silly and then complain how terrible we feel afterward. Thanksgiving for us is a day off from work, with family, and to nap in front of football until all the sales begin on Black Friday. That’s the problem with Thanksgiving—we have one day to reflect on our stuff and then we go get more stuff!
Thanksgiving was born in struggle and from struggle. Is it possible that we are too blessed to really be too thankful? Will Rogers drew this contrast between thanksgiving then and now:
In the days of our founders, people were willing to give thanks for mighty little, for mighty little was all that they expected. But now neither government nor nature can give enough but what we think is too little. In the fall of the year, if the founders could gather in a few pumpkins, some potatoes, and some corn for the winter, they were in a thanking mood. But if we can’t gather in a new car, a new radio...and some government relief, why we feel that the world is against us.
We have too much, and therefore we expect too much, to really be truly thankful. We are so focused on our stuff that we fail to see the God who gives. May God forgive us and cause us to refocus on the things that really matter. And may we be thankful.