Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving: An American Holiday

 Republished from last year....
For the past few years I have come to appreciate this American holiday more deeply. This is in no small part due to Rush Limbaugh's annual recitation of The Real Thanksgiving Story. 
Now I see Thanksgiving as not just a day for me to be thankful for the blessings in my life, but for us as Americans to appreciate the unique blessings bestowed on our country since before it's founding. 
The story below is my retelling of the Thanksgiving story as I want my children to hear it each year. I share it with you today in the hope that this holiday brings you together with family and friends to reflect upon America's exceptional situation on the world's stage. 
This exceptionalism has nothing to do with our genetic make-up (after all we are a nation of immigrants), or any supposed superior intelligence, but is directly due to the specific vision of freedom and the destiny of man that underpins our founding, and God willing, continues to form us as a nation. 

Thanksgiving and Freedom
By Carol Kennedy
In 1620, a band of Englishmen and their families set sail from England to America on a ship called the Mayflower. There were 102 travelers aboard that ship. They left England to escape an oppressive state religion, the Church of England, and seek the chance to practice their faith freely. They came to be known as Pilgrims (not to be confused with the Puritans who came several years later). 

The trip across the Atlantic ocean took 66 days. When the Pilgrims arrived it was December. The weather was cold and there was snow on the ground. There were no other people living in this spot, no buildings, no stores, nothing to welcome them. 

That first winter was very difficult. The Pilgrims were unprepared and supplies were very low. Many people died. By springtime there were barely fifty Pilgrims left. 

As the weather warmed, the Pilgrims began to work hard to plant, to hunt, and to fish. When they left England, they had agreed to share all the fruits of their labor equally. So each person worked for the whole group. Every field planted, tended, and harvested was split among the fifty pilgrims equally. They also depended on trade and supply ships to survive.
In March of 1621 they met some neighbors. An Indian named Massasoit introduced them to his tribe. The Indians and the Pilgrims agreed to live peacefully. They would work together to fight off unfriendly Indians. 

In the fall of that year there was enough food for everyone. The harsh winter was behind them and they were grateful to God. When it came time for harvest they celebrated God’s blessings on them. The celebration included feasting, sports and games, and their new friends. They gave thanks to God for surviving their first year. 

But, things were still not easy. For the next two years, harvests were barely adequate. They still depended on the supply ships. However, sea travel was so difficult in those days that they were never sure when to expect the next ship. Finally, the Governor and some of the leading citizens got together to make a new plan. They decided that the original system of 
sharing all goods equally was the problem. People resented working for those members of the community who did not work hard. Wives resented doing tasks for men other than their husband. And they were reluctant to encourage their children to work as well. 

The new plan was a system of private property. Each family would receive a plot of land that they could work. And the fruits of that work would be theirs. Each man worked for the sake of himself, and his wife and children. The wives now went willingly into the fields, with their little ones in tow. This change made the community more productive and they finally began to live without the danger of famine so close to their doorstep. 

One hundred and fifty years later, in 1789, our first president, George Washington, declared a national day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of the month of November. His declaration stated that we should, as a nation, be thankful to God for His providence, especially in the founding of the new country called the United States of America. 
President Washington named specific blessings that he thought this country should remember when giving thanks to God: 
  • for His kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation  
  • for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable intervention of his Providence which we experienced in the tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed
  • for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness
  • for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; 
  • for the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; 

The Pilgrims were not the first Europeans to come to America, nor were they the first colonists to discover the value of private property in bringing about prosperity. However, each Thanksgiving school children color pictures of pilgrims, dress up as pilgrims and write reports about pilgrims. The Pilgrims have become a symbol of the early beginnings of our country. Each Thanksgiving we recall the lessons learned by these early settlers because they have formed the foundation of a country whose commitment to freedom and liberty is unique in the history of the world. 

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