Each year, we take time from our busy lives to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving. Though many holidays have become secular celebrations, this holiday still retains much of its historic religious overtones.
A day of Thanksgiving was set aside by the Pilgrims who founded Plymouth Colony. Life was hard in the New World. Half of the Pilgrims died in the first terrible winter. After the first harvest was completed, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving and prayer. By 1623, a day of fasting and prayer during a period of drought was changed to one of Thanksgiving because the rain came during their prayers. The custom prevailed in New England and eventually became a national holiday.
Religious freedom is one of the lessons of Thanksgiving. In 1606, William Brewster led a group of Separatists to Leiden (in the Netherlands) to escape religious persecution in England. After living in Leiden for more than ten years, some members of the group voted to emigrate to America. Having been blown off course from their intended landing in Virginia by a terrible storm, the Pilgrims landed at Cape Cod in November 1620. While still on the ship, the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact.
The Mayflower Compact provides the second lesson of Thanksgiving: the importance of political freedom. On November 11, 1620, Governor William Bradford and the leaders on the Mayflower signed the Mayflower Compact before setting foot on land. They wanted to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in their lives and their need to obey Him.
During this Thanksgiving season, let’s return to the wisdom of the Pilgrims. They valued their freedom and were willing to endure hardship in order to come to this country and freely worship. Let us thank God for these freedoms and be willing to defend them against all who would seek to take them away.