Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow
in your field. Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the
year, when you gather in your crops from the field.
the years, I’ve done a little research on our national holidays, and you
might be surprised, even shocked, at what I’ve learned. The majority of
our “holy days” can be traced to ancient Celtic rituals and observances,
and even further back than that... to the biblical idols Baal and
Ashtoreth, the ancient Romans and Egyptians, and the Babylonian mystery
But Thanksgiving is a little
different. It’s a harvest celebration to the Living God, the God of the
Pilgrims and Puritans of American history, and the God of Abraham,
Isaac, Moses, and Jesus.
I suppose every culture and
people in the world has had a harvest festival to rejoice in the fruit
of the earth, and give thanks to their gods for the crops of the year.
In that sense, harvest celebrations could come from anywhere. But the
early Pilgrims used the biblical harvest festivals as the pattern for
the first American Thanksgiving Day in 1621.
Actually, the three major
festivals of Israel all had to do with various harvests. The feasts of
Passover and Firstfruits took place on the same weekend, at the time of
the barley harvest, the beginning of the harvesting season in Israel.
This was the time that the firstfruits matured; the rest of the crops
matured a little later.
Seven weeks later, to be exact—at
least that’s when the Israelites celebrated the Day of Pentecost. This
was a full blown holiday, including a two-week break from normal work
activities. The crops were in, so they could afford to sit back and rest
after a laborious growing season.
The final harvest celebration in
Israel was several months later, after the summer harvest. This was
called the Feast of Tabernacles, and the faithful Israelites celebrated
by taking up residence in little tents or “tabernacles” for seven days,
and offering special thanksgiving sacrifices for the grape harvest, as
well as other crops.
Three thanksgiving feasts in
Israel—that’s not a bad biblical precedent. We’d do well to emulate them
and be more thankful ourselves. Let’s look now at roots of the modern
The Pilgrims and Plymouth
In November of 1620, one hundred
and one religious dissenters landed in what is today the state of
Massachusetts in a feeble attempt to start a new civilization centered
around the God of the Bible. They wanted to build “a city on a hill”
that would shine forth the Lord’s mercy and grace to anyone who cared to
look. We know them as the Pilgrims, which means wandering wayfarers—they
wandered all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to brave a brand new
In their own day they were called
the Separatists—they had decided to “separate” themselves from the
church of England, which they felt was corrupted beyond any hope of
rescue. They had removed themselves from that church with its dead
rituals and political power-struggles, and returned to a more simple New
Testament style of worship—extemporaneous prayer, congregational
singing, and the preaching of God’s Word. (The Puritans, who followed
the Pilgrims to America a few years later, tried to “purify” the Church
of England, rather than separate from it completely.) The Separatists
were strenuously resisted for their efforts, by both church and state;
conditions became so intolerable that they fled to Holland.
Unfortunately, things were little better there, so they decided, after
much prayer and deliberation, to go to go to the New World and start a
new life for themselves, and eventually, a new nation.
So, they boarded the Mayflower,
endured a rough voyage, but finally made it to the New World. I used the
phrase “feeble attempt” a little earlier because they had either
underestimated the dangers and struggles they would face, or suspecting
them, had decided to go in simple faith in God, without a lot of the
earthly backing that would have helped their venture to succeed. They
knew nothing of the climate, the condition of the land, what crops might
be grown, or how to hunt and fish and get sustenance for themselves.
They did know about the dread diseases of the continent, and how some
ninety percent of the original Jamestown settlers had died of disease
within a short time of landing, but they decided to trust the Almighty
and go anyway.
The first winter the Pilgrims
spent in the New World was a nightmare. They called it the “General
Sickness.” Six died in December, and eight in January. February claimed
seventeen lives, March fourteen. By the time the worst was over,
forty-seven, or almost half of the total number of settlers, had died.
Thirteen of eighteen wives died; only three families remained unbroken.
Nevertheless, they persevered.
They comforted themselves from God’s Word, and they gave thanks. They
had tasted greater trials and testings than most people will ever have
to face, yet they were convinced that their God would not forsake them.
He didn’t. One day that Spring,
two Indians walked into their camp, and in flawless English, asked for a
beer! One of them, named Squanto, had recently lost his entire tribe to
a plague. He had been kidnapped by a British slaver, but, with the
assistance of some Spanish monks, had finally found his way back to
North America, only to learn that all of his loved ones had perished.
His heart went out to the helpless Pilgrims and he adopted them. He
taught them to plant corn, using a fish for fertilizer... they hadn’t
even been able to catch any fish up to that point, but he showed them
when the fish spawned and the creeks were full for the harvesting. He
taught them to hunt, which berries were edible, and how to guard against
wolves—how to get by in this land as a whole.
The First Thanksgiving
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy
choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing
prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of
the LORD is your strength.”
In the fall of 1621, the pioneers
harvested their first crops in the New World, twenty acres of corn,
which was more than enough to last the winter by their reckoning.
Governor William Bradford, elected upon the death of John Carver, their
first leader, declared a day of public thanksgiving, a festival and
feast to God for His graciousness to them during their first year in the
They invited Chief Massasoit of
the nearby Indian encampment, and he obliged by arriving a day
early—with ninety members of his tribe in tow! The Pilgrims almost
despaired—to feed that many would cut deeply into their winter food
supply—but they decided to smile and trust God. If they had learned
anything in the past years of trouble, persecution, and death, it was to
lean upon the Lord. The Indians had brought food, too: five dressed
deer, popcorn, maple syrup, and of course, the most famous of
thanksgiving dishes—a dozen fat wild turkeys!
The Pilgrims provided carrots and
onions, parsnips, cucumbers, radishes, beets and cabbages. And the
ladies prepared a treat for native Americans and settlers alike—hot
blueberry, apple, and cherry pies. They washed it down with sweet wine
from freshly picked wild grapes.
They also had games. There were
shooting contests with guns and bows, and foot races and wrestling
matches. The festival went over so well that they decided to extend it
for three days.
They had much to be thankful for.
The settlers in Jamestown to the south had fared much worse. Their death
toll had been higher, their harvests more meager, and they had continual
struggles with the Indian tribes in Virginia. But there was one big
difference between the first two groups of settlers in North America.
The Lord. The settlers in Jamestown were nominal Christians at best,
they had come to the New World to seek fame and fortune. The settlers at
Plymouth were staunch believers who had come to find a place to worship
freely and to establish a colony for the glory of the Lord.
An Official Day of
Various days of Thanksgiving were
declared over the subsequent years in New England, as the Pilgrims and
Puritans gave thanks to God for ending a drought, protecting them from
hostile Indians, or the safe delivery of more friends and relatives from
England. By the 1700s, annual springtime fasts and autumn harvest
celebrations were proclaimed throughout the northeastern colonies,
recognizing the key role that God played in the settlement and continued
prosperity of the region. As New Englanders settled further west,
Thanksgiving days were appointed in the new territories, too.
Now and again in the new
republic, the President would declare a special day of Thanksgiving:
Washington honored God for the adoption of the American Constitution in
1789; Madison proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving for the end of the War of
1812; and Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation after the battle of
In the mid 1800s, Sarah Hale, the
editor of a fashion magazine called Godey’s Ladies Book,
campaigned tirelessly for a national day of Thanksgiving. Most of the
states in the union already had one, so why not honor God together, as a
nation? She hoped that a unified spiritual action of this sort would
preserve the nation, and keep us from a bloody Civil War. The war did
occur, of course, but on November 26th, 1863, President
Lincoln finally declared that the last Thursday of November would, from
henceforth, be a national day of Thanksgiving. Here are the first few
lines of that presidential proclamation...
The year that is drawing
towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields
and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed
that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have
been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot
fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually
insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.
More recently, our leaders have
distanced themselves from God, rather than acknowledging our dependence
on Him as a nation. Not only prayer, but any sort of real communication
about the Lord has been forbidden in schools; manger scenes have been
removed from public lands; and one lawsuit after another has been
launched by the American Civil Liberties Union to guarantee that no
godless American need ever be exposed to the God of Christianity. While
the media soft-pedals its way around other minority religions, fearing a
backlash, Jesus Christ is daily blasphemed in almost every way possible.
Certainly, our land is
increasingly multi-cultural, but the present hostilities toward
Christianity seem to go far beyond political correctness. The government
seems to be going out of its way to establish, beyond any shadow of
doubt, that our God is not the God of the Bible!
We are very close to losing the
heritage that has been handed down to us from the heroic believers of
the past. Even the history books are being rewritten, carefully removing
any mention of God. Future generations of Americans may never know the
real reason the Pilgrims came to this land.
Thanksgiving itself is now
“Turkey Day,” a day of gluttony rather than rejoicing in the Lord—and,
of course, the day before the biggest shopping day of the year.
The Christian community in the
United States of America is faced with a choice much like that of our
forefathers in England, though our political climate is not nearly so
severe as theirs. We may become Separatists, isolating ourselves from
the world around us; or we may take the stance of the Puritans and try
to convert our society back to the God of our fathers. I think the
latter is the clear choice.
There is hope for this land, and
many reasons to be proud of our citizenship. Our nation is hanging in
the balance, however, and serious Christian involvement is needed to tip
it towards the Lord. We can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, turn this
country around, and save it from divine judgment.
“The weapons of our warfare,”
stated the Apostle Paul, “are not carnal, but mighty through God to the
pulling down of strongholds.” Those weapons are earnest prayer,
relentless preaching of the truth to turn the hearts of the masses, and
a Christian example that shines like the city on a hill the Pilgrims
sought to build. We have tried political means in the past few decades
without much success—for the most part the non-Christian community is
more alienated than ever. We need to try the methodology of the Bible
this time. Otherwise we stand to lose everything the Pilgrims strove so
hard to establish nearly three hundred and eighty years ago.
If you’ve not yet made a serious
commitment of your life to the Lord, you can start the revival of our
land right in your own heart today! Just believe in Jesus—that He died
for your sins and rose again from the dead. (By the way, the facts of
Jesus’ death and resurrection are as historical as the landing of the
Pilgrims, verified by secular historians of the time, as well as by the
eye-witnesses who wrote the Gospels.) Then decide to turn away from your
present selfish, sinful life-style, and follow Jesus to the best of your
ability. You can have assurance that you are right with God this very
moment—He will hear the prayer offered in Jesus’ name, and forgive your
Then get yourself into a church
that really teaches the Bible, a place where you can learn and grow in
your spiritual life, and make some Christian friends. The very angels in
heaven will rejoice with you, and God Himself will have a day of
thanksgiving for the return of another wanderer to the fold.
Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving
George W. Bush's
Thanksgiving Proclamation, 2001