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FIRST-PERSON: The first Thanksgiving

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–Thankfully, the founders of the United States were literate. If they had been unable to commit their thoughts to writing, the rabid secularists that now infest our great nation would have already succeeded in erasing the significant role Christianity played in America’s founding. There is no more poignant reminder of our religious heritage than the national holiday of Thanksgiving.

Some historians try to deny the religious motivation for the Pilgrims’ voyage to the New World. However, upon reading the thoughts of these brave adventurers there is no doubt as to why they left family and friends to undertake such a difficult and dangerous journey.

As they prepared to leave their ships and set foot on dry land, the Pilgrims drafted and signed the Mayflower Compact. In part, it reads:

“In the name of God, Amen, We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God … Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony….”

Given the context in which the Mayflower Compact was produced, it is difficult to interpret it as anything but a religious statement of purpose –- more specifically, a Christian statement.

These early settlers found the first year in their new home difficult. Almost half of the original 102 colonists perished during a harsh winter. However, with the aid of friendly Indians, the surviving Pilgrims managed to cultivate and reap an abundant harvest. Desiring to express their joy, they called for a celebration of thanksgiving in the fall of 1621.

Dedicated secularists have sought to revise history in order to downplay the significance Christianity played in the lives of the Pilgrims. The assertion is made by some “historians” that the initial thanksgiving was a feast intended to honor the Indians.

While I am sure the Pilgrims were appreciative of the help they received from their native friends, their writings indicate the purpose for their celebration was to offer praise and thanks to Almighty God.

Shortly after the first thanksgiving celebration, Edward Winslow, a Pilgrim leader, wrote a letter with the following heading: “A letter sent from New England for a friend in these parts, setting forth a brief and true Declaration of the worth of that Plantation, as also certain useful directions for such as intend a voyage into those parts.”

In the communication Winslow gave a brief chronicle of the Pilgrims’ first year in the New World. Throughout the letter he made it clear that the thanksgiving gathering was for the purpose of giving thanks to God “who hath dealt so favorably with us.”

Included in the letter, dated Dec. 11, 1621, Winslow described the Pilgrims’ three day thanksgiving celebration. One phrase is most poignant. It reads, “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.”

By placing their thoughts and convictions on paper, the Pilgrims left a written record of their motivation for settling the land that would become the United States of America. It is a good thing they did; otherwise, devoted secularists could get away with historical revisionism by ignoring the Pilgrims’ Christian commitment.

As a nation, we pause the fourth Thursday of each November to remember the first colonists and thank the same God who inspired and sustained their courageous journey of faith. Some do so knowingly; others do so out of ignorance. However, we all participate in some shape, form or fashion because Thanksgiving — a religious holiday — a Christian observance, is a significant part of our heritage.
Kelly Boggs is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore. His column appears each Friday in Baptist Press.

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