Yet most Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving despite the uncertainty of the future. And so it was with the small band of people who arrived almost 393 years ago. What most people recognize as the first real Thanksgiving was not because of an abundance of food and material things, and the people weren’t called consumers.
It is possible we may find inspiration and promise in the history of the Pilgrims who were dedicated to God.
A STORMY, THREE-MONTH voyage concluded with the welcome cry of “Land ho!” from the crow’s nest of the ship Mayflower. Upon landing at Cape Cod, colony Gov. William Bradford wrote: “Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element.”
But the trials and struggles to survive were only beginning. During that first winter, as food provisions grew scarce, scurvy and other diseases ravaged their bodies, and the death toll increased. By spring, they had lost husbands, wives and children. When counted, there were only 55 remaining of the original 103 Pilgrims. This new, raw land proved to be a challenge to the human spirit, and they found they were less than prepared for it.
From the spring into fall of 1621, the Pilgrims planted, fished and hunted, learning much from Squanto, the Patuxet Indian who helped them (Squanto’s own story is amazing in itself).
By fall, they had stored enough food provisions to last them through the next winter. Gov. Bradford declared an October Thanksgiving celebration to God, and the Pilgrims welcomed it. Despite their grief, they were determined to continue their commitment to God and his direction.
They invited Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag Indian tribe, who had befriended them. Massasoit and his 90 warriors brought with them plenty of wild turkey and deer to feed everyone. The celebration turned into three days of prayers, praising God, feasting and playing skill games with their friends.
The Pilgrims relied on the Providence of God, yet it’s not surprising that some Pilgrims expressed doubt about what they were doing in this wilderness. But their faith was renewed over and over again by God’s blessings poured out upon them.
The second winter also would be one of struggle to survive. In November 1621, the English ship Fortune dropped off 35 more colonists, but brought them no supplies – no food, clothing, tools or bedding.
With 35 extra mouths to feed and no extra supplies, the Pilgrims had to ration their food. It was a season of starvation. They were reduced to a daily ration of five kernels of corn apiece. Not one person died. This lean time is difficult for most of us to imagine in today’s America of plenty.
The Pilgrims trusted God, even when their faith was shaken. They probably knew well these biblical verses, that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:3-4, ESV)
BY THEIR EXAMPLE, whether we have little or much, we should be thankful to God for the roofs over our heads and the food on our tables. I hope you will reflect on this historic story of the Pilgrims’ struggle to survive through their faith in God. This has been the connecting thread that runs through all the generations of American lives since that precarious beginning.
The challenges we face today may seem overwhelming, but have much to do with our faith in God and our thankfulness for His blessings on our nation.
Are you thankful? Is Thanksgiving just one of feasting on turkey and all the trimmings? To whom are you thankful? Do we take everything we have for granted?
May we give thanks to God every day for His bountiful provisions.
(Bonnie Alba is a freelance writer in Aiken, S.C.)