The Eternal Meaning Behind Thanksgiving

Author: Timothy Tin
Translator: Mandy Kwan

When people think of Thanksgiving, we often think of the bountiful feast with turkey and other dishes. How often do people remember the treacherous journey of the Puritans, who came upon the shores of North America on the Mayflower and their harrowing experience as they settled upon Provincetown, Massachusetts? In fact, the significance of these first settlers point to something far more eternal and transcendent than just this annual American tradition. The Puritans were a small group of sojourners, in search of religious freedom, risked their lives and left their homeland to arrive on the American shores. They had not expected that this journey would not only leave a mark on the beginning of immigration to this country, but also become an embodiment of the U.S.’s establishment as its own nation. The Puritan’s original plan was to set sail on Speedwell on August 5th, 1620. However, the ship encountered problems and only 102 out of 121 passengers were chosen to board the Mayflower, and left Portsmouth of England on September 16th of the same year, sailing on a journey of no return.

These sojourners have gone through multiple life-death thresholds! Mayflower’s destination was present-day Virginia, but due to high winds and storms, the ship veered off its original route by 500 miles. Their first challenge was to find a safe harbor to dock, or else they would perish into the seas. They eventually landed in Cape Cod of Massachusetts, crossing the second hurdle. However, the region was not under British rule and there was no protection or law established.

Among the passengers, only 35 were Puritans, the remaining 70% of the passengers were originally laborers or workers bound for Virginia. Since they won’t be able to fulfill their employment contract, they grumbled and began to argue amongst themselves. To maintain civility and order, the Puritans proposed the Mayflower Compact to ensure the success of the first colony in self-governance. It requires all inhabitants that all are still subjects of King James and should follow the Christian faith and its way of life. Specifically, the Mayflower Compact declares, “for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith, and the honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another; covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices…” (9 Things You Should Know about the Voyage of the Mayflower by Joe Carter, 2023/4/19)

Even though a peace accord was established, many hoped for a new beginning but the brutal winter and various diseases have led to only 53 inhabitants of half of the Virginia Company surviving to the following spring. On 1621 March 21st, they finally left the Mayflower and went on shore. Their third potential danger was the reactions of Native American tribes to these new arrivals. With nearly 300 different tribes there was continuous contention over land and resources. Thankfully the Pilgrims encountered the Wampanoag tribe’s Abenaki. Its leader who was named Massasoit, and Squanto, an interpreter who spoke the native tongue and English, assisted the arrivals with farming and fishing methods, as well as shared botanical knowledge to discern between beneficial or poisonous plants. Squanto even mediated the signing of a peace accord between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims, which lasted at least half a century long.

In November of 1621, after the Pilgrims had successfully reaped their first harvest of corn and maize, William Bradford, the settlement’s governor, invited all the settlers and the Wampanoag natives for a feast. This is the first and original Thanksgiving feast! On November 26th of 1789 (Thursday) George Washington announced in the nation’s first Thanksgiving address, that this holiday is to commemorate the Revolutionary War’s end as well as the passing of the US Constitution. He named this holiday as a public day of Thanksgiving, and Present Lincoln in 1863 declared the last Thursday of every November to be Thanksgiving Day.

Dear friends, the Mayflower’s passengers averted multiple dangers and threats to their livelihood with God’s providence and protection. Their journey and experience left an everlasting testimony of God’s sovereignty. Only a sacrificial love that transcends borders and nations can unite and establish a home in eternity. But the Devil sowed seeds of greed, hatred, and violence, turning the American soil into a scorched battlefield of bloodshed among the natives, colonists, and other groups. How tragic that the sinful nature of man brought destruction to the land of opportunity! The Thanksgiving story is akin to John 13:34-35, that the sacrificial love of Jesus is displayed in His devotion to the disciples: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The Pilgrims, with their faith and hope, relying on God’s protection, pursued unity and experienced a taste of heaven-like life upon the American soil, owing to the hospitality of the Wampanoag natives. Only Love remains, and only love will lead us to our heavenly home! “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16).

Author: Rev. Dr. Timothy Tin is the lead pastor of the Christian Alliance Bible Church in L.A.. Rev. Tin serves as Board of Director in the International Fellowship of Christian Short Term Missions and Presence Quotient. Rev. Tin is currently teaching in USA Christian Mission Seminary. He holds practitioner’s licenses of acupuncture in Southern CA and NACCAOM in US. Rev. Tin received his Master’s degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from Alhambra Medical University, Master of Longevity Martial arts and Doctoral degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from University of East West Medicine. Rev. Tin is a frequent speaker in many churches and nonprofits organizations.

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