Thursday, November 23, 2017

(197) PUT THANKS BACK INTO THANKSGIVING DAY: History; Count Your Blessings Before Eating the Turkey

       Happy Turkey Day!  What?  You’re kidding me!  That’s crazy… if that dead bird is happy.  In many of our public schools our kids learn that the pilgrims had a feast to thank the Indians for their help.  Like Christmas, our secular society is losing the meaning of Thanksgiving, not even saying grace before the feast with family.  A good practice is to begin the day with a Mass of Thanksgiving and at the family feast, have each person around the table, especially each child say what he or she has to be thankful for.

     Yes, the Indians were invited to the first thanksgiving feast to celebrate the first harvest with gratitude to Providence in October 1621 because God used them to help the Pilgrims survive and establish themselves.  Yes, they ate turkey because that was common wild game of the time and even today in our Gallia County.  May we relive that feast of gratitude with our families.

Let’s go into the real story of Thanksgiving Day.  It’s really a story of hardship and trust in God’s providence……..that He will provide.

    In 1534 King Henry VIII renounced the authority of the Pope and declared himself to be the head of the Church in England.  After his death in 1547, his successors, including his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603), continued in that mode.  However, there were groups that thought that the Church of England was too Catholic.  The Puritans wanted to purify the Church.  

     Another group thought that the Church was beyond repair and separated to start a new church, simpler and less structured like the first Christians, but it was illegal to belong to any church outside of the Church of England.  Catholics were viciously persecuted.  Perceived as a threat, these Separatists were harassed, fined, or jailed.  After two failed attempts, they fled this persecution to more tolerant and liberal Holland.  After 12 years, they were becoming absorbed into the Dutch culture and began to lose their English heritage.  With a war looming with Spain, they decided to move to the New World.

        With the help of an investing company, the Pilgrims started out with two ships, but had to turn back twice and finally abandon the leaky Speedwell.  They finally started again in the Mayflower with 102 passengers on September 3, 1620 and sailed for 66 difficult days, arriving close to winter on November 11 near Cape Cod.   

The Mayflower Compact

                             There the men signed the Mayflower Compact as a charter for democratic community government.  On December 16 they finally found Plymouth Rock to be suitable for settlement.  The people lived on the ship off of the salty food on board while constructing cabins on shore.  Having inadequate food and deficient shelter from the cold and wet weather, caught scurvy and pneumonia.  Half of them died; imagine how their faith was put to the test.  Only 52 of the original 102 passengers survived the first year.  They called themselves pilgrims since they completed a long journey for spiritual purposes…….to practice their religion in freedom.
Reproduction of a pilgrim settlement at the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA
       God sends Squanto as His instrument.  God allowed the Pilgrims to suffer to test and build their faith while bringing them closer to Him.  All the while and years before their voyage, God had a plan to provide for His people.  For years English traders dealt with the Indians in the fur trade in New England.   In 1612 a Captain Hunter kidnapped a 12 year old boy, named Squanto, with several others and threw them onto the ship.  He sold them as slaves in Malaga, Spain.  Little did the boy Squanto know that God, about whom he knew nothing about, had given him a special mission as He has given to each one of us.  We shall see how God made good out of evil. 

Squanto was sold to an order of monks in Spain and lived with them, learning about the faith and becoming a Catholic.  Yearning for home after three years, the monks helped him to get to England, where he could board a ship to America.  Waiting for the opportunity, Squanto worked as a stable boy for three more years, becoming fluent in English.  Finally his prayers were answered and he was hired as a translator on a ship headed for the New World.  Lo and behold he ended up in Massachusetts, very close to where he was raised.  Squanto found his native village, but discovered that everyone was wiped out by Smallpox.  First he lived with a neighboring tribe and then by himself.


   In the Spring of 1621 Squanto stumbled upon the Pilgrim settlement. The settlers were flabbergasted; out of the woods came an Indian  who spoke perfect English!  The Lord was with the Pilgrims all the time!  Squanto grew up in the area where the Pilgrims settled and knew the land.   Coincidence?   Since his people were gone, the Pilgrims became his family.  Squanto taught them how to plant corn, catch eels from the streams, lobsters and fish from the ocean.  

      God had a special mission for Squanto years before and prepared him for it…….to help the Pilgrims to adapt to a new and strange land. Furthermore, Squanto helped the Pilgrims to befriend neighboring tribes of Indians.   At the end of the Summer they had a bountiful harvest.  The 53 pilgrims celebrated with 90 of their Wampanoag Indian friends for three days in October 1621 and thanked God for His providence. 

Thanking God has been part of our national fabric throughout our nation’s history.  The very first  Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in 1565 in San Augustine, Florida with a Mass said by Fr. Francisco Lopez  at the site of the present Cathedral Basilica after the first settlers led by  Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed.  

While the British occupied the national capital at Philadelphia the Continental Congress issued the First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving on November 1,1777 to be observed on December 18 from its temporary location in York, Pennsylvania (See Appendix I).  Concurrently, General George Washington, leader of American forces, proclaimed a Day of Thanksgiving in December of that same year as a celebration of the October 17 defeat of the British at Saratoga in upper state New York (see  It was the turning point of the Revolutionary War since it gave France the confidence to help.  Colonel Tadeusz Kościuszko, a hero of both the United States and Poland, designed the fortifications (see

In the middle of the Civil War after the victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham proclaimed a Day of National Thanksgiving, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863 and it became an annual tradition, something that most countries do not have (see Appendix II).  When there are five Thursdays in  November, Congress settled on the fourth Thursday in 1942.  Now you know the rest of the Thanksgiving story…….not really a holiday, but a holy day.

Knowing the real story of Thanksgiving, let’s bring God back to Thanksgiving.  Make the day live up to its name.  Thank the Lord at Mass in the morning.  Eucharist does come from the Greek which means thanksgiving.  Watch some football and thank the Lord at dinner.
What do we have to be thankful for?  THINK! Everything ultimately comes from God……..our health, our talents, our skills, our knowledge, our education, our wealth, our possessions, our homes, our food, our parents, our family, our Church, our friends, answered prayer, etc.  Thanksgiving is a very important component of prayer, which may also include adoration (praise), confession (repentance), supplication (petition), meditation, and spiritual reading.

How about if things aren’t going well for you?  St. Paul reminds us: “Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thess. 5:16-18) because it will ultimately lead to our good.  That’s the mystery of the cross.  God will make good out of a current setback, illness, injury, accident, problem, difficulty, etc.  He will provide.  That’s where TRUST comes in.  Humbly accepted and offered up to the Lord through Mary for the conversion of sinners, crosses will make saints out of us and bring us closer to God. “For those who love God all things work together unto good” (Romans 8:28).

The top 30 thanksgiving verses in the Bible can be found at Our Lord taught thanksgiving in the Gospels as (Luke 17:11-19). As you put your head on the pillow each night, examine your day and think of things that you can thank God for.

Other Sources

Appendix I

November 1, 1777 Thanksgiving Proclamation

The committee appointed to prepare a recommendation to the several states, to set apart a day of public thanksgiving, brought in a report; which was taken into consideration, and agreed to as follows:

Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the
superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such farther blessings as they stand in need of; and it having pleased him in his abundant mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of his common providence, but also smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defense and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a measure to prosper the means used for the support of our troops and to crown our arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the 18th day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please him graciously to afford his blessings on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all blessings, independence and peace; that it may please him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labor of the husbandman, that our land may yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under his nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

And it is further recommended, that servile labor, and such recreation as, though at other times innocent, may be unbecoming the purpose of this appointment, be omitted on so solemn an occasion.

Appendix II

October 3, 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln

This is the proclamation which set the precedent for America's national day of Thanksgiving. During his administration, President Lincoln issued many orders similar to this. For example, on November 28, 1861, he ordered government departments closed for a local day of thanksgiving.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the "day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival." She explained, "You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution."

Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states. President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale's request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions altogether. In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as the editor of Godey's Lady's Book. George Washington was the first president to proclaim a day of thanksgiving, issuing his request on October 3, 1789, exactly 74 years before Lincoln's.

The document below sets apart the last Thursday of November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise." According to an April 1, 1864, letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln's secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. On October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member Gideon Welles recorded in his diary how he complimented Seward on his work. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony 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 Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.

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