This past year has been a tough one for many, if not most, Americans. While fighting two fronts in the war on terrorism, we've had to contend with economic turmoil, soaring unemployment, political division and a growing sense that America's best years are behind us.
However, this Thanksgiving holiday provides America with an opportunity to reflect on our Thanksgiving history and tradition while giving thanks to God for seeing us through another year. In spite of our current strife, we should thank our Lord for his grace (giving us what we don't deserve) and mercy (not giving us what we do deserve).
The celebration of Thanksgiving Day can be traced hundreds of year to the birth of our nation. According to David Barton of Wall Builders, a project devoted to the intersection of faith and culture, colonists observed a day of Thanksgiving as far back as 1541 in Texas, 1565 in Florida, and Virginian colonies observed a day of thanks in 1607 and 1619.
However, the credit for creation of our own Thanksgiving Day holiday goes to the Pilgrims who arrived in the New World in December 1620. These Christian men and women escaped religious persecution in the Old World only to be subjected by the harshest of winters compounded with a lack of food supplies. By the end of that frigid winter, half of these settlers were dead.
According to Barton, the colonists witnessed a prosperity with a bountiful harvest. Barton quotes the colony's future governor -- Edward Winslow -- as stating: "God be praised, we had a good increase of corn. . . . [and] by the goodness of God, we are far from want."
In their fervor to acknowledge God's blessings upon them, the Pilgrims declared a three-day feast in December 1621 to thank God and to celebrate His blessings with their friends. Indian warriors from the Wampanoag tribe joined the Pilgrims for three days of food, athletic games (the young Pilgrim and Wampanoag men engaged in races, wrestling matches, and other athletic events), and of prayer.
This celebration – America's first Thanksgiving Festival on record – was the origin of the holiday that Americans now celebrate each November, Barton points out.