Monday, November 19, 2012



   It was September 1620.  One hundred two passengers left Plymouth, England, seeking religious freedom and the promise of prosperity and land ownership.  They encountered a brutal winter, mostly remaining on board the ship.  By Spring, there were only about a half of them left due to exposure and disease.  A member of the Pawtuxet Tribe,  Squanto, taught the malnourished Pilgrims, also weakened by disease, how to cultivate corn.  He taught them how to extract syrup from Maple trees, how to catch fish, and how to avoid poisonous plants.  Squanto also helped the Settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag Tribe, which endured for more than 50 years.
   In November 1621, Governor William Bradford organized a celebration to commemorate the first successful corn harvest.  The feast, which was shared with the several Native American allies, including the chief of the  Wampanoag Tribe,  lasted three days.
    The Pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving celebration in 1623 to mark the end of a long drought that had threatened the year’s harvest and prompted Governor Bradford to call for a religious fast. Days of fasting and thanksgiving on an annual or occasional basis became common practice in other New England settlements as well. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year, and in 1789, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States; in it, he called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His successors John Adams and James Madison also designated days of thanks during their presidencies.
    In 1827, the noted magazine editor and prolific writer Sarah Josepha Hale—author, among countless other things, of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”—launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years, she published numerous editorials and sent scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians. 
Abraham Lincoln finally heeded her request in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, in a proclamation entreating all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November.

   While most of us celebrate Thanksgiving by large meals with family and friends, shopping, or watching football, the holiday began as a tribute to the Lord for the success of the harvest.  The Festival of the Harvest goes back to the Book of Exodus.  This Thanksgiving, let us give thanks to the Lord of all creation and pray for His forgiveness and mercy on our nation.  Let us pray and fast and return to the Lord.

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