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The First Thanksgiving Wasn’t Easy

One of my prayers for the rest of the year is that we can find a way to be thankful and celebrate, with joy, as we often call these last weeks “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” From what I hear and read, it’s not going to be easy.

The Covid virus has not relented as I had wished; in fact it seems to be a determined foe. I know people who have contracted the virus and, sometimes it has been easily “overed,” as some say, but others have struggled. Thankfully, I have not contracted it, yet, knock on wood, uh, I mean my head!

Traditionally, we go back to the settlement of Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, in the winter of 1620, for our Thanksgiving story. It was a bitterly cold winter as they landed with 102 Mayflower passengers. Only 44 would survive that horrible winter season and that was due, mainly, to the kindness of the Native Americans who fed them through those initial months.

In the spring of 1621, the Mayflower returned to Europe and it is a tremendous tribute to the courage and determination of the Pilgrims that not one, nary a settler, chose to leave the New World, despite a 65% mortality rate in the difficult new land.

Again, the new settlers were treated kindly by the Native Americans and learned how to plant and grow what would be a bountiful crop of corn to harvest. The natural and abundant game in the region, such as venison, goose, turkey, and fish augmented their corn crop and the new settlers remembered their traditional Harvest Festival in the old country.

Joined by almost 100 Indians the new-found settlement celebrated with thanksgiving for several days in the fall of 1621. Their celebration would become annual and, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln understood the virtue in setting aside a day for giving thanks.

Our Thanksgiving holiday sets the stage for ending the year on a high note.. I understand that 2020 has been a very unusual year and it might be hard to find reasons to give thanks. The recent upsetting presidential election has only challenged us more as we gather together with our families around our turkey, ham, cornbread dressing, and delicious desserts.

There is an old saying, “This is not my first rodeo,” meaning that a year like 2020 is not the first challenging year in the history of our nation. It might be one of the most challenging, but not the first.
When President Lincoln proclaimed that last Thursday in November as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise, he was President of a nation that was at war with itself. Over 50,000 Americans had died a few months before on farmland in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Yet, this great nation continued to put one foot in front of the other and persevere. Farmers were farming, miners were mining, families were increasing, freedom was growing, and a light could be seen at the end of the tunnel that would be known as the Civil War. There were reasons to be thankful then and there are reasons to be thankful now.

In Lincoln’s Proclamation (written by his Secretary of State, William Seward) there are these words. “No mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

I am thankful for those who have worked hard through this difficult year. I am thankful for those who have endured great challenges, and continue to do so. I am thankful for this struggling nation as we move with determination through difficult times. Thank you, God, for the privilege of being thankful.