The shorter catechism, ‘Agreed upon by the Reverend Assembly of Divines at Westminister,’ as the old New England Primer has it, asks the ancient questions what and why, and answers them in one short sentence hardly matched in any uninspired work. “Question: What is the chief End of Man? Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
It is in that spirit that 102 Pilgrims established the Plymouth Colony, landing at a place called Plymouth Rock in December of 1620. Unlike the entrepreneurs who had earlier established the Jamestown Colony, the majority at Plymouth came to America fleeing religious persecution (They were known as Separatists.) and seeking a place to worship as they saw fit.
In the early autumn of 1621, the 53 surviving Pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest, as was the English custom.
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling (turkey hunting) that so we might after a special manner rejoice together,” said Edward Winslow, a colony leader.
The Pilgrims did not call this harvest festival a “Thanksgiving” although they did give thanks to God.
To them, a Day of Thanksgiving was purely religious. The first recorded religious Day of Thanksgiving was held in 1623 in response to a providential rainfall.
George Washington was the first president to declare a national day of thanksgiving. Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of thanksgiving in October 1863 during of the Civil war. President Andrew Johnson continued the tradition and went a step further, giving federal employees the day off, making Thanksgiving Day a legal holiday. In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a congressional bill establishing the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day, an “official” national holiday.
And here we are, almost 400 years after the first Pilgrims set foot at Plymouth Rock, preparing to celebrate another Thanksgiving Day.
As I consider the state of our Union, I am somehow reminded of a cigarette commercial of a few years back which championed the newfound freedoms of women: “We’ve come a long way, baby.” But, as a nation, I fear our “progress” has brought us to a slippery slope.
In writing to his young understudy Timothy, Paul, the apostle, described the mood of the “last days.” He wrote, “Men (mankind) shall be ... unthankful, unholy.”
Someone once said the strategy of the devil for our times is to keep us so busy and so caught up in living “life” we don’t have time to think — time to think about the greater realities — time to think about that which is really important — time to pause and be thankful. And we lose sight of life’s bigger questions like who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?
Of course, this year’s Thanksgiving Day will be celebrated under a cloud of complicating issues. The outcome of the recent national election is still being contested as is the direction our country will take in the immediate future. Along with that, government officials and scientists have spelled out guidelines as to if, or how, we should celebrate as families.
May I make a few suggestions?
On Thanksgiving Day morning, arise before daylight (you might want to make a cup of coffee) and spend a few quiet moments alone before the day gets so hectic. It will give you time to reflect, and count your blessings, and think about the people you love.
If they all can’t join you for the day, go to them (in your mind) and bless them.
And when you are enjoying your Thanksgiving Day meal, chew your food slowly and savor every bite.
In his latter years, my father included these words in every one of his prayers: “and thank you Lord for our many blessings.”
Have we not enjoyed many blessings in this great country of ours?
May we never forget, as individuals and as a nation, the words of James the brother of Jesus: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and come down from the Father. Be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.”
Hartsville resident Jack McCall is a humorist and motivational speaker.