Seriouly…The entire holiday is a “feel good” holiday for me. The family is together and there’s a huge feeling of home ‘n hearth. The cooking smells are soooo nice. And the spirit of thanksgiving just permeates the air. PTL!
However, I’m also a researcher and I’ve come to learn that what we call Thanksgiving Day was begun by an American Indian of the Patuxet tribe named Tisquantum, or as he is better known today, “Squanto.” It began when Squanto took a tradition from the heritage of his native people, that of Potlatch, an Indian covenant ceremony that centered around feasting and giving of precious gifts in honor and covenant.
Tisquantum’s tribe the Patuxet lived in what is now known as Plymouth. In 1605 he was captured and brought to England where he learned English.
Several years later Captain John Smith Brought Squanto back to New England. Shortly after that, he was again captured and brought to Spain as a slave with several other Indians. He and the others were kept in cages and shown off as a type of carnival or circus attraction. Local friars rescued them, taught them to read and write, and introduced them to Christianity. Squanto became well versed in Scripture while there, and also became an expert horseman. He eventually traveled back to England and in 1619 returned back to the New World. It occurs to me that to be able to do all this, especially in that day, he obviously had the hand of the Lord on him.
When Squanto reached his native village, he discovered his entire tribe had been wiped out by a plague. Being the only survivor, he went to live with a neighboring tribe, the Wampanoag. Squanto lived among them as a Christian.
In November 1620, after enduring more than two months of difficult conditions on board the Mayflower and also being blown off course (they had planned to settle just north of the Virginia colony), the Pilgrims landed at Cape Cod. They hastily constructed rude shelters, but they were not prepared for the harsh New England winters and the scarcity of food. By spring, nearly half of them had died from malnutrition and disease.
William Bradford wrote in his book, Of Plymouth Plantation, about the spring of 1621:
“About the 16th of March, a certain Indian came boldly amongst them and spoke to them in broken English…His name was Samoset. He told them also of another Indian whose name was Squanto, a native of this place, who had been in England and could speak better English than himself…About four or five day after, came the aforesaid Squanto.”
Squanto labored with the Pilgrims to plant corn and other crops that fared well in the New England soil and climate. He showed them where were the best places to trap and fish. He helped negotiate a peace treaty between the colony and the surrounding tribes. According to William Bradford, “Squanto…was a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation.”
The harvest brought enough food for the next winter, and Governor Bradford called for a day of thanksgiving. Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag and 90 of his men came and stayed for three days of feasting and entertainment.
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“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor…Now, therefore, I do appoint Thursday, the 26th day of November…that we may all unite to render unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection.”
It was not until 1863 that President Lincoln set aside the last Thursday of November as the annual national day of thanksgiving.
In 1941, Congress established the fourth Thursday of November as a permanent national Thanksgiving Day holiday.