In 1621, part of a tiny sect of the Puritans known as Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving at the Plymouth colony, acknowledging God’s providence in providing a bountiful harvest for them. They understood that it had been the work of God’s hand to get them across the Atlantic on the Mayflower, and then to bring to them, in the hour of their greatest need, a native Iroquois by the name of Squanto. This man assisted them in their contact with local tribes as well as teaching them about food sources in the forests and rivers and fertile soil. They were astonished that he spoke quite good English.
Though they faced tremendous hardships and some loss of lives through that first bitter winter, not one of them elected to return the next spring on the Mayflower to the comforts of Europe. They saw themselves as part of a greater plan in the providence of God, and they were right, as we now know.
Over the history of our nation, Presidents have made Thanksgiving proclamations, calling on Americans to offer up prayers of thanks to Almighty God for His blessings on our country. In some respects, Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. Although a few other nations have, at harvest time, a festival encouraging a thankful spirit, the American concept of Thanksgiving is specifically directed to offering thanks to the Almighty God of the Scriptures for His blessing and protection.
The following is one or President Reagan’s eight proclamations for Thanksgiving. This one he issued on September 27, 1982:
By the President of the United States of America–A Proclamation:
Two hundred years ago, the Congress of the United States issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation stating that it was “the indispensable duty of all nations” to offer both praise and supplication to God. Above all other nations of the world, America has been especially blessed and should give special thanks. We have bountiful harvests, abundant freedoms, and a strong, compassionate people.
I have always believed that this anointed land was set apart in an uncommon way, that a divine plan placed this great continent here between the oceans to be found by people from every corner of the Earth who had a special love of faith and freedom. Our pioneers asked that He would work His will in our daily lives, so America would be a land of morality, fairness, and freedom.
Today we have more to be thankful for than our pilgrim mothers and fathers who huddled on the edge of the New World that first Thanksgiving Day, could ever dream. We should be grateful, not only for our blessings, but for the courage and strength of our ancestors, which enable us to enjoy the lives we do today.
Let us reaffirm through prayers and actions our thankfulness for America’s bounty and heritage.