I read the book The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks by Jan and Mike Berenstain to my daughter a few months back. After that she asked me about the whatness of Thanksgiving. I was only able to muster a tentative reply. So I thought I might as well take a look at the history behind why to the American people this holiday is significant for the sake of my daughter, myself and our homeschool.
A Brief History of Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is an American holiday that springs from the unique heritage of its people as a nation. I can’t tell much about this holiday but I read that it has something to do with the desire of English Reformers to settle in another country where they can freely worship God without government sanction. Aboard the Mayflower, these pilgrims set foot in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620 and established their first colony there. It was also in Plymouth where the first Thanksgiving Feast was held.
Freedom, Feasting, & Fellowship
In the course of my investigation, I found a wonderful narrative on the celebration from www.plimoth.org, a website of Plimoth Plantation, a US tourist attraction/spot.
An excerpt of Edward Winslow’s Mourt’s Relation: D.B. Heath, ed. Applewood Books. Cambridge, 1986. p 82 was quoted in plimoth.org and reads:
“And God be praised we had a good increase… Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.
They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.
And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”
At a time when food was scarce and plagues are not uncommon, their giving of thanks is full of meaning. It’s amazing how simple their requirements were! They were not hard to please, and they were thankful for what we will consider today as trivial things. The sentiment in the above narrative clearly puts me to shame. I am not thankful to God enough, as I should be, though my store is more than theirs!
You, Too, Can Celebrate!
I have a feeling that the Thanksgiving as a holiday has as we speak seeped into different cultures around the world, and I suggest three possible reasons for this:
- Relevance of Thanksgiving — gratitude is a universal virtue! Every culture has its own way of giving thanks.
- Worldwide publication and distribution of literature with Thanksgiving references.
- American influence, especially in countries colonized by the United States.
Speaking of number 3 there, would you believe that Thanksgiving used to be celebrated in the Philippines?
According to historians, the holiday was celebrated annually in November in the Philippines during the American period, that is from 1901 to 1935.
Since the Philippines was under American control then, proclamations declaring the holiday were issued by the American Governor-Generals.
Some facts you might want to know, which I got from this government site:
- The main dish was referred to as “Dewey’s Turkey”.
- Thanksgiving was celebrated secretly by Filipinos and Americans during the Japanese regime.
- The holiday continued to be celebrated yearly from 1944-1965 through proclamations issued by Presidents Quezon to Marcos.
- The holiday was moved to September 21 on the same date of the proclamation of Martial Law.
- After the Martial Law Regime, the celebration of the holiday ceased as it is associated with Proclamation No. 1081, s. 1972.
It is good to know the spirit in which Thanksgiving was celebrated in the Philippines by the text of Proclamation No. 9, Series of 1935:
Now, therefore, I, Manuel L. Quezon, President of the Philippines, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November twenty-eight nineteen hundred and thirty-five as a day of thanksgiving in the Philippines and do enjoin upon the inhabitants thereof to repair to their respective houses of worship and offer thanks to Almighty God for the blessings which He has bestowed upon this country; for the establishment of the Commonwealth base upon the free will and suffrage of the Filipino people and for the generosity of the American Government and people in granting to us this final concession preparatory to the achievement of the status of a free and independent nation; to make humble acknowledgment of our devout gratitude to Him for the bountiful blessings that have been vouchsafed to us during the past year and for the spirit of peace and goodwill that reigns supreme among all elements of our people; and I do also furnish, for the respectful and careful consideration of the people of the Philippines, the following proclamation of President Roosevelt:
“BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA—A PROCLAMATION
“I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, hereby designate Thursday, the twenty-eighth of November, nineteen hundred and thirty-five, as a day of national thanksgiving.
“In traversing a period of national stress our country has been knit together in a closer fellowship of mutual interest and common purpose. We can well be grateful that more and more of our people understand and seek the greater good of the greater number. We can be grateful that selfish purpose of personal gain, at our neighbors’ loss, less strongly asserts itself. We can be grateful that peace at home is strengthened by a growing willingness to common counsel. We can be grateful that our peace with other nations continues through recognition of our own peaceful purpose.
“But in our appreciation of the blessings that Divine Providence has bestowed upon us in America, we shall not rejoice as the Pharisee rejoiced. War and strife still live in the world. Rather, must America by example and in practice help to bind the wounds of others, strive against disorder and aggression, encourage the lessening of distrust among peoples and advance peaceful trade and friendship.
“The Future of many generations of mankind will be greatly guided by our acts in these present years. We hew a new trail.
“Let us then on the day appointed offer our devotions and our humble thanks to Almighty God and pray that the people of America will be guided by Him in helping their fellowmen.
“In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
“Done at the City of Washington this twelfth day of November, in the year of Our Lord Nineteen hundred and thirty-five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the One hundred and sixtieth.
“FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT”
History has spoken how our country fared in the attainment of its aspirations! But God is the final judge — “Do we FIlipinos still make humble acknowledgment of our devout gratitude to Him for the bountiful blessings we are receiving?”
It is good to know the history behind every holiday we celebrate. Since God is the author of history, when we study the stories behind events, we are likewise learning more about the Author of history. God surely intended historical events to fulfill his purposes for every nation and for the world at large.
In particular, everything finds worth and meaning taken in the light of the cross of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is good to give thanks for God’s kindness to all the nations through Jesus Christ, the ultimate GIFT most worthy of the thanks of all tribes and tongues!
For the kingdom is the LORD’S and He rules over the nations.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Tip: Check out this free resource entitled “The Children’s Book of Thanksgiving Stories”. You can print Nathaniel Hawthorne’s John Inglefield’s Thanksgiving or The First Thanksgiving by Albert F. Blaisdell and Francis K. Ball or other stories that are appropriate for the age of your child.