Happy Thanksgiving: Restoring the Christian Connection

Our family had a Thanksgiving dinner last night. It was not quite the real deal: instead of a proper whole turkey, we had some turkey roll thingee. It was easier and quicker to cook of course, but not quite the same. And this being Australia, we did not quite have all the right stuff to make a proper pumpkin pie for dessert.

(Strangely, these Australians prefer pumpkin as a savoury vegetable, not as a sweet. Things really are upside down here!) Of course the purpose of this article is not to describe my culinary tastes – or lack thereof. It is to talk about Thanksgiving. Most Australians of course know next to nothing about this major American public holiday.

But much more sadly, I suspect that most Americans today do not know much about it either. They enjoy the day (and the long weekend) as a time to pig out, watch football, and relax. It is also the busiest time of the year for air travel. But the true meaning of the celebration is largely lost on most Americans.

As I had to explain to a number of Australians yesterday, Thanksgiving is not just another secular holiday, but is a decidedly Christian occasion. It refers to the original Pilgrim Fathers in America who passionately thanked Almighty God for helping them get through their first year in the new country.

thanksgivingSpecifically, it refers to an autumn harvest feast celebration in 1621, in which both Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared in a time of thanksgiving for the harvest, and for God’s provision. Abraham Lincoln turned it into a national holiday in 1863.

The Pilgrims fled the Old World for the New World, especially in search of religious freedom. A year earlier they had sailed from Plymouth England in search of a new and better life, one in which they could worship freely. The perilous two-month sea voyage was difficult enough, with plenty of prayer on offer.

Upon landing in what is now Massachusetts in late November 1620, they had to gear up for a rugged American winter. They faced quite harsh conditions in the New World, but with a great faith and hard work, they made a real go of it.

Although nearly half of the original group died during the long winter, they made it through, with the help of copious prayer and the assistance of sympathetic local Indians. The following year’s abundant harvest resulted in a grateful people, who initiated this Thanksgiving festival.

But as I mentioned, this decidedly Christian event has been greatly watered down over the years, so that the very real faith component of it has been basically weeded out. Yesterday Charles Colson recycled one of his earlier commentaries on Thanksgiving and spoke to this devaluation of Thanksgiving.

Parts of his piece are worth repeating here. “Today’s kids are being fed a half-baked version of Thanksgiving lore, complete with glazed facts, mashed multiculturalism, and a generous helping of censorship. Several children’s books about the Pilgrims are on bookstore shelves. But in a cold November blast of secularism, much of the spiritual component has been blown away.

“As a result, our children are consuming a dumbed-down version of Christian history. They’re taught that the Pilgrims risked their lives traversing the ocean for economic gain, not religious freedom. And that first Thanksgiving feast? It’s described as nothing more than a three-day binge with the Indians.”

“Take, for example, a book called The First Thanksgiving by Jean Craighead George. As this book tells it, the Pilgrims left Europe ‘to seek their fortune in the New World.’ That would have come as news to the Pilgrims themselves. Pilgrim leader William Bradford wrote in his diary that the voyage was motivated by ‘a great hope . . . for advancing the kingdom of Christ.’

“And when it comes to Thanksgiving itself, in this book the religious dimension finds no place at the table. The author states flat-out, ‘This was not a day of Pilgrim thanksgiving’ – thanksgiving to God, that is. Instead, she writes, ‘This was pure celebration.’

“Odd. That’s not the way the Pilgrims themselves remembered it. Listen again to the account by William Bradford, who was actually there: ‘The Lord sent them such seasonable showers,’ Bradford writes, that ‘through His blessing [there was] a fruitful and liberal harvest. . . . For which mercy . . . they set apart a day of thanksgiving.’

“Why aren’t we hearing this side of the Thanksgiving story? Some historians seem to view America’s Christian heritage with about as much enthusiasm as they would a plateful of Hamburger Helper on the Thanksgiving table. And I can think of at least one reason: It has become a fun game for secularists to deride Christians as poor, ignorant, and easily led.

“But far from being easily led, the Pilgrims themselves led the way to settle the New World. These people sailed across dangerous oceans without the benefit of a government grant. They built their own housing in freezing weather without the assistance of a public works program. And when they fell sick, they didn’t look to a government health program to take care of them. Even in the face of death, they nurtured a thankful spirit to God.”

Most US Presidents have recognised and celebrated these truths. Some, like the secularist Obama, have tended to ignore or downplay them. Others with a robust faith, such as Ronald Reagan, did not. This is what Reagan said in one of his Thanksgiving addresses:

“Today we have more to be thankful for than our pilgrim mothers and fathers who huddled on the edge of the New World that first Thanksgiving Day could ever dream. We should be grateful not only for our blessings, but for the courage and strength of our ancestors which enable us to enjoy the lives we do today. Let us reaffirm through prayers and actions our thankfulness for America’s bounty and heritage.”

Consider also his January 11, 1989 farewell address in which he also invoked the Pilgrim Fathers:

“I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts. The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the `shining city upon a hill.’

“The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.

“And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

“We’ve done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all.

“And so, goodbye, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”

Reagan certainly was under no illusion concerning America’s spiritual foundations. He shared them, embraced them, and promoted them. We need more American Presidents and leaders who also have a great awareness of, and appreciation for, the overwhelmingly Christian origins of the American nation.

Only then can we properly celebrate Thanksgiving.

(BTW, a great article on how Obama might have celebrated the first Thanksgiving is found here: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/nov/24/a-very-obama-thanksgiving/print/ )


[1453 words]

26 Replies to “Happy Thanksgiving: Restoring the Christian Connection”

  1. Well, Bill, happy Thanksgiving, and all that it means to devout Americans. Enjoy the turkey and cranberry sauce.

    However, I must demur at pumpkin pie. What inverted values the Americans have, when pumpkin is a sweet and not a savoury vegetable! And made into a pie of all things!! I could not contemplate anything more YUK!

    Murray R Adamthwaite

  2. On a more serious note, let me share this anecdote from a former president (Calvin Coolidge, president 1925-29):

    The Pilgrims

    Three centuries ago to-day the Pilgrims of the “Mayflower” made final landing at Plymouth Rock. They came not merely from the shores of the Old World. It will be in vain to search among recorded maps and history for their origin. They sailed up out of the infinite.

    There was among them small trace of the vanities of life. They came undecked with orders of nobility. They were not children of fortune but of tribulation. Persecution, not preference, brought them hither; but it was a persecution in which they found a stern satisfaction. They cared little for titles, still less for the goods of this earth, but for an idea they would die. Measured by the standards of men of their time they were the humble of the earth. Measured by later accomplishments they were the mighty. In appearance weak and persecuted they came, – rejected, despised, an insignificant band; in reality, strong, and independent, a mighty host, of whom the world was not worthy, destined to free mankind. No captain ever led his forces to such a conquest. Oblivious to rank, yet men trace to them their lineage as to a royal house.

    Forces not ruled by man had laid their unwilling course. As they landed, a sentinel of Providence, humbler, nearer to nature than themselves, welcomed them in their own tongue. They came seeking only an abiding place on earth, “but lifted up their eyes to heaven, their dearest country,” says Governor Bradford, “where God hath prepared for them a city.” On that abiding faith has been reared an empire magnificent beyond their dreams of Paradise.

    Amid the solitude they set up hearthstone and altar; the home and the church. With arms in their hands they wrung from the soil their bread. With arms they gathered in the congregation to worship Almighty God. But they were armed, that in peace they might seek divine guidance in righteousness; not that they might prevail by force, but that they might do right though they perished.

    What an increase, material and spiritual, three hundred years have brought that little company is known to all the earth. No like body ever cast so great an influence on human history. Civilization has made of their landing place a shrine. Unto the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been entrusted the keeping of that shrine. To her has come the precious heritage. It will be kept as it was created, or it will perish, not with an earthly pride but with a heavenly vision.

    Plymouth Rock does not mark a beginning or an end. It marks a revelation of that which is without beginning and without end, – a purpose, shining through eternity with a resplendent light, undimmed even by the imperfections of men; and a response, an answering purpose, from those who, oblivious, disdainful of all else, sailed hither seeking only for an avenue for the immortal soul.

    Calvin Coolidge, Exercises on the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Landing of the Pilgrims (1920)

    Murray R Adamthwaite

  3. Thanks Murray for the Coolidge remarks.

    And hey, I bet if you tried pumpkin pie, complete with whipped cream on top, you would like it heaps. Light-years better than Vegemite!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  4. I love vegemite and roast pumpkin (born in Holland) but I cannot imagine sweet pumpkin pie with cream.

    In Holland pumpkin is food for pigs only.

    Thanks Bill for your article.

    Is Christmas not celebrated the same here in Australia as is Thanksgiving in America?

    Ask any child and they will tell you that Christmas is about Father Christmas, presents, and school holidays.

    Many here now call it “Happy Holidays, Xmas, Holiday Season,” anything as long as Christ is not mentioned at Christ-mas.

    Anne Van Tilburg

  5. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that which you call Pumpkin in our stores. Huge pumpkins with orange skin???

    It is sad that the true meaning of Thanksgiving, and Easter, and Christmas have been lost. I must say most of my interaction with Americans is with Christian homeschoolers and I have found a pride in the Christian heritage of America amongst them, and a pride an respect for their form of government and the governing leaders. Us Australians on the other hand have little pride in being a democracy, and shame at the way our country was first settled by whites. We have fought in wars but not experienced fighting for our freedom or a civil for like the Americans and have little pride in those who fought in the world wars. Americans on the other hand seem to have a great pride and respect for those who serve in the armed forces.

    It is sad that the secular world doesn’t recognise the Christian beginning of many of our celebrations but there are the faithful few who are teaching our children the truth and helping them to celebrate the Lord and not mythical characters.

    I have also noted that Thanksgiving seems to be more important than Christmas in America. We gather with family for Christmas but it seems Thanksgiving is the big family celebration in America. Would you agree?

    Kylie Anderson

  6. Thanks Kylie

    You can make your own pie from digging out the insides of a pumpkin and adding the appropriate ingredients and spices, or you can just get it all pre-made in a can in the US. Just pour it into a pie shell. Great stuff. You guys ought try it one day.

    As to Christmas and Thanksgiving, both would be quite widely celebrated as major family events in America.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  7. Bill, thanks for the clear explanation.

    I was really stirred and encouraged by Ronald Reagan’s words, too.

    They stand out (especially in today’s gloom) like a modern-day version of the Gettysburg Address, or Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech.

    John Angelico

  8. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the whole: canned pumpkin, canned chicken thing.
    We have some Americans at church, if I’m lucky I may get to have some pumpkin pie on Sunday.
    Kylie Anderson

  9. Beware not only secularists’ attempts to air-brush Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter from human consciousness, but also the role they play in extending this concept to all history via the Education system. See Dr Kevin Donnelly’s excellent article: ” Dumbed down Australian history curriculum” in “Newsweekly”, 10th May, 2010, p17-18.
    Dunstan Hartley

  10. Another important lesson from the Pligrims is that Thanksgiving almost never happened. Their first year, they had a disastrous flirtation with communal living, aka socialism. Anyone who knows anything about the role of incentives should have realized that people resented working for the benefit of others, even devout Christians. Instead, there was an incentive to be lazy and live off other people’s labours. As a result, there was a severe famine for the first two years.

    Prosperity was restored only after Governor Bradford restored the biblical principle of private property. As a result of connecting work to reward, the colony prospered, for which Bradford gave thanks to God.

    Giving Thanks for the Free Market (Heritage blog)
    Happy Starvation Day (John Stossel)

    Jonathan Sarfati, US

  11. Americans don’t have much to be thankful for at present though, do they? Unfettered greed has destroyed the economy, millions of unemployed, huge numbers in prison, a massive gulf between rich and poor, billions wasted on unwinnable wars, crime and drugs rampant, and a political system incapable of reform because of the stupid culture wars. The Republicans are moving to the far right, a sure recipe for further disaster.

    I hope America becomes strong again, because the world needs it, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. The entrenched warfare mentality has stifled any hope of real economic progress.

    Robyn Anderson, Sydney

  12. Thanks Robyn

    Yes the US has big problems, but let me remind who is in office – the secular left regime of Obama. A conservative Republican resurgence is actually the solution to the problems, not the cause of them.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. Bill,

    I don’t see the Republicans as a solution, especially if that vacuous Palin woman gets into power. The Bush administration was in office when the financial crisis started and they don’t have any better solutions than Obama. The social problems in the US have arisen under policies of both administrations.

    What is needed is a bipartisan approach to the problems, but that isn’t likely to happen, because confrontation is so deeply embedded in the American psyche. I’m an expat Yank, and I’m ashamed at the lack of integrity in politics today. Congressmen are beholden to lobbyists representing big business, not to the people they claim to represent.

    Robyn Anderson

  14. To answer lefties like Robyn Anderson on “greed” (as if lefties are not) see Milton Friedman giving Phil Donahue a lesson on this furphy.

    And as for this stuff about the “massive gulf between rich and poor, if everyone’s real wealth were doubled, the gulf would also double. Margaret Thatcher skewered this envy-mongering beautifully, showing that the Left would rather have the poor worse off as long as the rich were not so rich.

    Jonathan Sarfati, US

  15. Thanks Robyn

    But why your blatantly one-sided – and therefore false – remark: “Congressmen are beholden to lobbyists representing big business”? Do you actually believe there are no Congressmen beholden to lobbyists representing all sorts of other groups, including plenty of leftwing agendas? You speak of the need for a bipartisan approach, yet all your comments betray are a decidedly partisan (leftist) ideology.

    But you are getting off topic here, given that this piece is about America’s Christian heritage and history.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  16. Bill,

    I think both sides of politics in the US are bereft of ideas, and both represent vested interests. There are lobbyists of all kinds swarming over Capitol Hill, but we all know where the big money comes from, and money buys votes in Congress. I don’t know where the idea came from that socially conservative Christians should get into bed with Big Money. It’s an absolute disgrace, and biblically indefensible.

    Robyn Anderson

  17. Sorry Robyn, but you are wrong again. While we may all know where Big Money comes from, it is evident that you don’t. Have you ever heard of George Soros for starters? Or Bill Gates? There is actually far more money coming from leftwing millionaires and billionaires. They are funding a whole range of leftist causes and organisations, and doing a great job of buying votes from left-leaning Congressmen. And there are plenty of studies on patterns of corporate funding, showing how even big business is funnelling heaps of money into leftwing groups and agendas. So I am afraid I must again call your bluff here.

    But if and when you admit that it is “an absolute disgrace, and biblically indefensible” that all this leftist money is pouring into leftist politics, and socially leftist Christians are getting into bed with all these leftist financiers (“Big Money”), then I will be happy to agree with you.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  18. I am astounded that you have a problem with Soros and Gates giving away their money to help the world’s poor, sick and disadvantaged. They may not be Christians but they are far better human beings than many so-called Christians today.

    You really do have some sick and twisted ideas about Christ’s message to the world, Bill.

    Robyn Anderson

  19. Thanks again Robyn

    But with all due respect, it seems now the only major question remaining is this: is your rather woeful ignorance deliberate or otherwise? If you are not aware of where their money is going to (including drug-legalisation causes, pro-abortion groups, same-sex marriage organisations, pro-euthanasia causes, atheist organisations, and a raft of other radical lefty causes), then you really should stay out of debates which you know nothing about. But if you do know about this funding, then I will leave it to my readers to decide just who exactly has “some sick and twisted ideas about Christ’s message to the world”.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  20. I can’t believe that there is no Australian on this site that likes pumpkin pie. My family loves the pumpkin pie I make, though probably nothing like the original. But I certainly don’t get it out of a can. 🙂
    Bill Gates is one of those who takes the money first and then big notes himself for giving so much away. The money consumers have to pay for inferior technology and the constant need to up-grade in order to be compatible etc., that is criminal I think.
    As to the hope of material prosperity, I am not sure that there would be anything wrong with that. God is not stingy and has always blessed His people, though He always takes pains to have us remember where everything we have comes from and who it is who can make things from nothing Rom 4:17. I am sure the pilgrim fathers weren’t hoping they would remain poor in the new world, though their motivation of leaving was to be able to worship the sovereign Lord freely and openly.
    Money is not the problem, only the love of money is, how you make it and how you use it.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  21. A lot has happened since you wrote this article.
    Australia has adopted the wrong American celebration – should have adopted Thanksgiving (which give thanks to Almighty God for His provisions) instead of Halloween (a secular, commercialised & pseudo-occultic corruption of “All Hallowes’ Eve,”)

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