The first Thanksgiving in U.S. history was a three-day event to mark the end of the harvest and was held some time from late-September to mid-November in 1621. This celebration featured games, military exercises, diplomacy, and, of course, feasting, and was attended by early settlers of Plymouth Colony (in what is now Massachusetts) and members of the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday of November to be a national holiday of Thanksgiving, which we in the U.S. still celebrate to this day. Some other countries also celebrate a national Thanksgiving holiday, although not all on the same date. In the U.S., its significance remains tied to the completion of harvest and gratitude for our blessings.
In John chapter 4, Jesus challenged the disciples to open their spiritual eyes to a different kind of harvest. One version puts it: “Wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe unto harvest” (John 4:35). Rather than pointing out the farmers’ fields of grain, perhaps He gestured toward the Samaritan village where even then a crowd was following the Samaritan woman out to meet Jesus at the well.
Another time, Jesus equated the spiritual harvest to the crowds of sick, diseased, and spiritually lost. After a tour of area synagogues in many towns and villages, Jesus’ heart was touched with compassion. He told His disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields” (Matthew 9:37b-38).
The year 2020 may have brought changes to your traditional Thanksgiving plans. Celebrations may look different for your family, yet you are determined to thank God for His blessings in your life. We pray that you will have a blessed Thanksgiving, with a soul filled with gratitude and joy in spite of many difficulties.
The year 2020 has also brought into even sharper focus the spiritual harvest. Many in the U.S. and around the world are suffering from illness, fear, and spiritual confusion. May our hearts be touched with the compassion of Jesus, and may we remember to pray that He would send more workers for His fields.
This Thanksgiving, we pray for you these words adapted from Psalm 65:11—
May God crown your year with a bountiful harvest; may even your hard pathways overflow with abundance.
All scripture quotations are taken from the New Living Translation.
Source: “Colonists at the First Thanksgiving Were Mostly Men Because Women Had Perished,” by Sarah Pruitt, https://www.history.com/news/first-thanksgiving-colonists-native-americans-men, Nov 16, 2020.