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Thanksgiving: The Seminal Story of America

Why Thanksgiving is as relevant today as it was for the Pilgrims four centuries ago.

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he Thanksgiving holiday, which commemorates one part of the Pilgrim story, remains the favorite holiday for many Americans. And for good reasons beyond enjoying a feast. With our country passing through troubled times, it is worth revisiting the Pilgrim’s five significant achievements, which created the seminal story of America, and reveal remarkable insight into who we are and the qualities of character we need to overcome our present challenges.

First, of the many groups of settlers who came to America, only the Pilgrims were singularly motivated by a spiritual quest for religious freedom—one that had its origin with the Protestant Reformation a century before. They repeatedly spoke about their voyage to the New World in terms of a flight from tyranny to freedom, comparing themselves to God’s chosen people—the Israelites—who overcame slavery and abuse in Egypt to get to the Promised Land. Similar to the Israelite’s exodus, the Pilgrims had left what they saw as oppressive and morally corrupt authorities in Great Britain and Europe to create a new life in America. Thus, both Christians and Jews find profound meaning in the Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving story.

Thanksgiving could be thought of as the holiday that made the other American holidays possible. Without the Pilgrims having courage; absolute faith in their cause and calling; and a willingness to sacrifice and risk everything, they never would have embarked on the 94-foot Mayflower—a ship of questionable seaworthiness. Were it not for their faith and determination to find freedom of conscience and live according to their Biblical beliefs there may never have been a July 4th Independence Day or other subsequent American holidays we take for granted and celebrate each year.

After a harrowing passage across the Atlantic—one that included wild pitching and broadside batterings by gale force winds and ferocious seas that caused the splitting of the ship’s main beam—the Mayflower was blown off course from the intended destination of the established Virginia Colony territory to wilds of Cape Cod. The Pilgrims knew not where they were nor how to proceed, so they beseeched the Almighty for favor in a making landfall in a suitable place with fresh water and fertile soil to establish a new and independent settlement.

Now in sight of land after a frightening voyage and facing hunger from spoiled and depleted provisions and anxious about settling outside the purview of Virginia Company charter territory, the secular Mayflower passengers were restless and insolent. And this is when the Pilgrims made their second major achievement that would shape the future of America.

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