Happy Thanksgiving? Why?

Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!  (Psalm 106. 1)

There are so many reasons for me to give thanks. How about you? Primarily, and above all else, I give thanks that “God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3. 16) With this at the top of my list, I could go on and on for pages listing good reasons for gratitude.

However, this day has been specifically set aside as “Thanksgiving Day,” but I have to wonder just how many Americans actually remember the origins and original reason for Thanksgiving Day. And no, it was not just another patriotic holiday during which Americans gave thanks for the founding and endurance of this nation.

Still less did Thanksgiving have anything at all to do with football and “Black Friday,” appropriately named as it centers squarely upon commercialism, greed and profit, often bringing out the worst in people (who choose to participate.) No, this day (in historic origin) has to do with salvation — physical, communal salvation from death … literally.

To keep this short, some of you (perhaps, hopefully, many of you) will remember the Pilgrim story, specifically the very harsh winter in modern-day Massachusetts during which nearly half of the colony of Plymouth died of starvation and related illnesses. Except for one saving event, according to William Bradford, leader of the colony, the whole of that settlement would have perished.

What happened? (Again, hopefully you will remember!)

The Indigenous Peoples living nearby, specifically Algonquians, took pity upon these European settlers and brought them food and fur blankets (and other supplies) several times during that particularly harsh winter and, thereby, saved the remaining half of Plymouth. For their part, at least, those Pilgrims viewed this saving action as the mercy of almighty God … and so they appropriately gave thanks.

Not only did they give thanks to God and the Algonquians that winter, but during the following Autumn, too. This is from where we derive the classic picture of Pilgrims and Indians (Algonquians) seated together at a long table laden with all kinds of food, in fact a veritable feast. No wonder that for years upon years the Plymouth colony and their Algonquian neighbors got along very smoothly.

Of course, history took a very nasty turn against the Indigenous Peoples of this continent, but that is, perhaps, another tale for another time (and one with which my readers should also be familiar!)

So what is my point in bringing all of this up? Very simple: When so many of us gather as families round the table for “Thanksgiving” dinner, we should — point in fact, we are practically, morally compelled — to remember that at root (that is, in origin) we are celebrating the salvation of European foreigners by the good hearts and hands of the Indigenous Peoples of this continent… Salvation of an entire community, despite the fact that they (the Europeans) were different … foreign.

Please, let us keep this in mind and, I might add, that as a consequence of keeping this in mind, not be (thoughtlessly, ignorantly) “offended” when instead of “Happy Thanksgiving,” we hear or read “Happy Indigenous People’s Day” or “Indigenous Heritage Day;” after all, as we’ve remembered (albeit briefly) above, this day is as much, if not more, about those blessed Algonquian peoples of long ago as it is about Pilgrims and/or Americans.

P. S. We might also ask ourselves, “How have we returned the favor?” But, again, that is perhaps another tale for another time! So for now … Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Indigenous Heritage Day!

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