The First Thanksgiving

It’s been over 400 years since the first Thanksgiving – and yet the more times change, the more they remain the same. 

Thanksgiving 2023 comes during a highly volatile and uneven time in America’s history. Dissension and dysfunction seem to be everywhere. Anger and frustration are running high. You can feel it. You can see it.  

Whether politically, economically, socially or spiritually, nobody knows for sure what is coming next – or even if it’s coming at all. 

Well, truth be told, that sounds a bit like the first Thanksgiving. 

Hollywood and artists tend to paint that first feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 as this idyllic Hallmark Hall of Fame kind of moment. But it wasn’t like that at all. It wasn’t romantic. It was rough and it was tough.  

For starters, the Pilgrims didn’t even intend to come to Massachusetts at all. They were planning to land in New York. But the coming winter and unfavorable winds landed them way north of their original target. So, they decided to try and make the best of it. 

They left England with 102 passengers, and by the time that first Thanksgiving rolled around the following November, there were only 52 of them still alive. 

The Pilgrims had no choice but to work with the native people, and they were able to forge positive relations with them over time. 

William Bradford, who became the governor of the Plymouth Colony, summed up the challenge this way. 

He said, “All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.” 

William Bradford was right back in 1621 – and that same charge applies four centuries later. 

We may not be facing a “barren and desolate wilderness” – which is what Bradford called the new world – but the difficulties are real and raw, and they’re still raging.  

To combat and navigate the times, we can take a lesson from the first Pilgrims. 

First, we need to direct our prayers and thanks to Almighty God. He is good and He is merciful. The first settlers didn’t have much – but they had enough. They paused and they gave thanks. 

We need to do the same. Even the poor in America today are rich by most standards around the world. And yes, there are huge divisions and disagreements in America today. We don’t ignore them, but we’re not paralyzed by them either. 

We can thank God for our country, our families, and the countless blessings we enjoy. That you even woke up this morning, and hopefully have someone you love and someone who loves you – that’s a great gift.   

William Bradford counseled the need for courage. The Pilgrims answered the call, and we need to do so as well. 

It takes courage to live boldly in America today. It takes courage to not be intimidated by cultural bullies. Be counter-cultural. Proclaim and live your faith. Love and remain faithful to your spouse. Care for your children and grandchildren. Serve your neighbor and yes, love your enemies.   

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on the blessings the Lord has given us and to express our gratitude for His bountiful grace and mercy. 

From the Daly home to yours, and from all of us at Focus on the Family, Happy Thanksgiving! 

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