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What Does Thanksgiving Mean?

What Does Thanksgiving Mean?
by William L. Bulla

In a few days we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in America in 1621.
President Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863. Long before Thanksgiving was a 'day,' Thanksgiving was given to us in the Bible as a responsibility, as a duty, as an exercise in obedience.
But what does Thanksgiving mean to us today? Has its meaning grown hollow to us? Are we too involved with Macy's parade, football, and from stuffing ourselves on turkey, dressing, pie and other food which makes the dining table groan, to really remember Thanksgiving's true meaning?
Do we feel a Pilgrim's gratitude and pay profound thanks for a good life in a good land graced by God?
To pay a Pilgrim's thanks, we need to renew our knowledge of early Plymouth. How did the Pilgrims live during that first year in the New World? What experiences make their gratitude so forceful? Let's look at their first year so we can better appreciate just why we should be thankful.
When the Pilgrim's landed in Plymouth in late December 1620, they numbered about one hundred, but that first winter forty-eight of them died of scurvy, viruses and exposure. The sick died in cold huts or aboard the cold, befouled ship. There was no warmth or nursing to be found for 3,000 miles. If Thanksgiving finds us under the weather, we've got doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and electric blankets to comfort us.
Yes, by the time of the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims knew too well that good health is one of God's most precious blessings.
And, if our Thanksgiving Day dawns cold, we can turn up the thermostat.
During their first winter, the few able-bodied Pilgrims had to build shelters for the rest of their party. They had to row ashore every morning and, unavoidably wade the last few yards through frigid water.
All day, in wet wool, canvas and leather clothing, they chopped down trees, sawed planks, and erected stone footings and hearths, and build houses no larger than your living room. Against the cold, they set windows made of oiled paper. By the time of the first Thanksgiving, they had only completed seven of these rude houses to house fifty people. By then their clothes were ragged, and some were said to be "little better than half-naked." But even knowing winter's cruelty, they were grateful for even minimal shelter and clothing.
The Pilgrims were mainly town dwellers. They were accustomed to purchasing their food at markets, and suddenly they had to feed themselves by their own hands. Their wheat, barley and pea crops failed.
Their corn crop was bountiful, but mainly thanks to the guidance of their Indian friend, Squanto.
It was primarily by hunting and fishing that they we able to create a Thanksgiving feast. But by now they knew that this bounty was fleeting because the fowl were flying south for the winter and the fish were becoming dormant. So while feasting, they had to give thought to the meagerness of their stores as winter approached. Because of this, they might have spent the first Thanksgiving begging for more blessings, instead of giving prayerful thanks for the ones they had already received. But these were people free of self-pity and despite the trials, tragedies and uncertainty of their future, they were thankful because of their profound faith in God. They didn't need big, miraculous signs. A few acres of corn, gourds, bushels of clams, a few fowl: this humble provender was enough to convince them of God's love. For it, they were grateful!
So this Thanksgiving, I ask, if the Pilgrims could be so thankful for so little, shouldn't we be extremely thankful for so much?

William L. Bulla is a freelance writer residing in Washington County.

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