This November represents the 400th anniversary of the first thanksgiving of the Pilgrims who, against all odds, survived their first winter in a strange new world an ocean away from everything familiar to them.
It had not been an easy year, as nearly half of the Pilgrims died during their first winter in the new world while desperately seeking the religious liberty that had been denied to them in Europe. Children were orphaned, families were torn asunder, and even those who had been strong found themselves sick, weak, and increasingly desperate.
It was at this moment that something that can only be described as miraculous occurred. A Native American named Samoset walked out of the nearby woods and shocked the Pilgrims by speaking to them in broken English. The Pilgrims befriended Samoset, and he introduced them to the nearby Wampanoag tribe. Among those was a man named Squanto who actually spoke fluent English. He had been taken as a slave to Spain before being liberated by a religious society of monks and friars and traveling to England in order to find a way back to America. Upon arriving home several years later, his tribe was gone, and he attached himself to the Wampanoag people. But upon meeting the struggling Pilgrims, Squanto decided to take them under his wing.
Over the next few months, Squanto taught the new settlers how to plant corn, how to successfully raise crops, how to effectively hunt, and fundamentally how to survive in the New World. Without his help, it’s likely that the Pilgrims would have all died. The next year brought success, and they decided to have a time of thanksgiving, “so that we might after a more special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.” Chief Massasoit and the Wampanoag were invited and for three days the surviving Pilgrims and their native friends celebrated and rejoiced that “by the goodness of God, we are so far from want.”
It’s also significant to note that, in some ways, the first thanksgiving was more of an Indian affair than a Pilgrim one, as Chief Massasoit and his warriors outnumbered the colonists by nearly two to one. Nevertheless, this group of outcast religious dissenters and their new native allies gathered together at one table to celebrate their survival, success, and friendship. They had a lot to be thankful for.
Now, some 400 years from that day, do we still have anything to be thankful for? Our elections are suspect to say the least on the topic, our liberties are being stripped away from us, and even the most rudimentary reality that there’s such a thing as a man and a woman has become a forbidden belief. In many ways, we find ourselves in a radically similar position as William Bradford and the Pilgrims did prior to sailing to America. An oppressive government continually assails the liberty of conscience, the freedom of the press, and a host of other unalienable rights. Indeed, it’s as if one day we woke up to discover a strange new world dramatically different from everything we once knew. Who can we look to, and what can we give thanks for?
Well, despite the hardships and difficulties, we still have America and the Constitution, although they are under constant attack and in desperate need of defending. We should look at those two things and give thanks to God. The year before the Pilgrims had their Thanksgiving, they had formed the first governing document written in North America—the Mayflower Compact. It was a standard they could repair to for the security of their rights and liberties.
As the historian George Bancroft explained, “In the cabin of the Mayflower, humanity recovered its rights, and instituted government on the basis of ‘equal laws’ for the ‘general good.’” Whenever things got tough, they could always look back upon their constitution and remember that they came not for an easy life filled with riches, but for nothing less than “the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith.”
As Americans, the inheritors of the Pilgrim’s legacy of self-government and individual liberty, we ought to cherish America and offer thanks to God for His continuing provision—even through the midst of this hard winter. The Bible explains that “every good gift … is from above.” Despite what the enemies of the country say, America is a good thing, and we ought to recognize God’s grace and blessings. So, this year, during this historic anniversary, let us remember the example of the Pilgrims and join them by remembering what the Apostle Paul once said: “In every thing give thanks.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.