Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Pilgrims in 1621, Part 5: Thanksgiving

And finally we get to the great event of 1621, “the First Thanksgiving”. Now I should mention that Thanksgiving was not this time of year. It was somewhere between September 18th and November 10th as those are the dates of the events described by Bradford and Winslow before and after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was most likely in October, which makes sense as it was as the harvest was all gotten in. If you are in Massachusetts in late November it isn’t going to seem like harvest season. I bring this up because it is important to remember what this celebration was for. This was a harvest festival. In the words of Edward Winslow, “our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after...a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors”.

The Pilgrims were a hard-working people, but that did not mean that they didn’t rejoice. In the 1800s, many of the descendants of the Pilgrims and Puritans forgot God, but continued the emphasis on work and became the industrialists that did produce a lot, but also tore apart the relational community that the Pilgrims represented so well. The Pilgrims were hard workers, but were not workaholic. Because of their hard work, their rejoicing meant all the more. The less effort we put into our work, the less enjoyment we will get from our celebrating, and the less special it will be. Because the Pilgrims worked hard, they played hard. They feasted for a week, entertaining their 90 Indian guests for three of those days! They feasted like Christians. The Bible gives guidelines for this kind of rejoicing in several places. In Deuteronomy 14:22-29 it gives directions to the Israelites to give a entire tithe of their produce to a feast of celebration, and to buy with it “whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household”. In Deuteronomy 16:13-15 it commands the Israelites to “keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the LORD your God at the place that the LORD will choose, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.” The Pilgrims reflect this much in their celebration, in the feasting for seven days, in inviting the sojourner (i.e. the Indians), in doing it in praise to God’s goodness, and in being altogether joyful.

We are told that the Pilgrims participated in a couple activities to celebrate, and I can say those that are mentioned are all things that I would enjoy. The first thing was going hunting. The main thing that is mentioned is hunting for waterfowl like ducks and geese, although Bradford adds that they hunted other things as well, like turkeys and deer. The Indians also brought five deer to the celebration that they had hunted. Another activity mentioned is the shooting of guns, most likely in competitions of marksmanship. And besides hunting and shooting, Winslow says that there were other recreations as well, which we can but speculate on. Perhaps they had races, games, singing, and dancing. And then of course there was the feasting. In the several days that they feasted they ate the wild game they had shot like the ducks, geese, deer, and turkeys; the fish, clams and eels they got from the sea; many vegetables such as squash, beans, onions, Indian corn; and native fruits such as cranberries and grapes. As Winslow wrote to those back in England, “And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

And so we find the Pilgrims near the close of 1621, and although there would be many other trials, the Pilgrims had laid down a foundation of a godly society that would be built upon for many years afterwards that would later help form the United States of America. They laid a foundation of diligent work, of honorable foreign relations, of joyful thankfulness, and over all, a foundation of Christianity that worked itself out in its actions. Because of their Biblical policies and God’s sovereign Providence they enjoyed a peace with those around them. As Winslow said, “We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us...yea, it has pleased God so to possess the Indians with a fear of us, and love unto that there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly, neither would have been but for us; and we for our parts walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways in England.” Because of sin we cannot have a utopia here on earth, and the Pilgrims fell into sin time and again. But God was merciful and blessed the Pilgrims and the rest of America for their early faithfulness. Since then we have taken the blessing while forgetting the reason for it. We have become a people that sees work as merely a necessary means for feeding our materialistic cravings. We have become a welfare and warfare state. We have become a individualized and commercialized society devoid of relationships, hospitality, and community. May we learn from their efforts, may we return to God and lead our society back to Him. May we remember that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps. 33:12).

Happy Thanksgiving!


Dana Adams said...

Blessings, The Adams Clan

Unknown said...

Hello Peter!

Great to see you and skate with you today :) I just read your "series" on the pilgrims. Well done!

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving; and into His courts with praise. Be thankful unto Him and bless His name!”

“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

“O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever!”