Thanksgiving is not a tradition from my childhood, having been raised in Australia my first Thanksgiving was in 1971 in Boston.
Growing up we had "Harvest Festival" each year as part of the liturgy in our church. It had the same purpose of giving thanks to God for the blessings of His bounty as did the Pilgrims first Thanksgiving celebration. The altar was decorated with fruit and vegetables and we sang hymns of praise and thankfulness, "Come ye thankful people come", "We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the ground", "Lord of the harvest ", does anyone else remember those hymns?
Thanksgiving services used to be more the practice in the years after I came to the USA but seem to have gone by to be replaced with a day of over- eating and football on TV!
Of course I studied along with my sons as they learned in school about the origins and traditions of this celebration and what follows are some tidbits of history that may not have been taught in school.
The first year after the Pilgrim's arrival was as we know, devastating, so the blessing of a bountiful harvest was to these Christians an indication of God's mercy and they deemed it necessary to give public thanks to the Creator.
In Autumn of 1621 the then Governor, WIlliam Bradford, sent "four men fowling" to capture wild ducks and geese-it does not seem likely that this first Thanksgiving included turkey but they did eat clams, lobster, berries, dried fruit, watercress and venison. They also had boiled pumpkin and a fried bread made with the pumpkin, sounds like there was lots of this vegetable!
This three day feast was not repeated and for many years there is no record of any further public celebration until in June of 1676 another thanksgiving day was proclaimed in Charlestown MA.
A hundred more years passed and in 1777 all 13 colonies joined in a celebration that also commemorated the victory over the British in Saratoga.
In 1789 George Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving, but later Jefferson opposed this celebration.
The current Thanksgiving owes it's origins more to Sarah Hale, a magazine editor who for 40 years lobbied congress and presidents for a national thanksgiving until finally in 1863 President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November to be a National Day of Thanksgiving.
It is my hope that each of you today will find cause for gratitude, in spite of our hardships and losses, wars and the state of the nation/deficit, most of us have a sound roof over our heads, food a-plenty, loved ones around us both family and friends and -yet- the freedom to enjoy these blessings.
Thank you for your friendship, God bless you this day and always may you have much cause to bless the Lord.