Today is Thanksgiving. Some people are looking forward to a big meal of turkey, dressing, and pie followed by an afternoon of football. But those are secondary to the meaning of Thanksgiving.
Traditionally, the thanksgiving celebration held by the Pilgrims in 1621 is considered the first Thanksgiving.
However, as described in The True Thanksgiving Story by Dennis Rupert, other observances had come before the Pilgrim Thanksgiving.
The first recorded Christian thanksgiving in America occurred in Texas on May 23, 1541 when Spanish explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, and his men held a service of thanksgiving after finding food, water, and pasture for their animals in the Panhandle.
Another thanksgiving service occurred on June 30, 1564 when French Huguenot colonists celebrated in solemn praise and thanksgiving in a settlement near what is now Jacksonville, Florida.
On August 9, 1607 English settlers led by Captain George Popham joined Abnaki Indians along Maine’s Kennebec River for a harvest feast and prayer meeting. …
Two years before the Pilgrims on December 4, 1619, a group of 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation in what is now Charles City, Virginia. The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a day of thanksgiving to God.
All of these thanksgiving observances had one thing in common, though. As George Washington said in his Thanksgiving proclamation, they were
… observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God …
Our first president recognized the role of “that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be” in our national life. And today we can’t have the Ten Commandments in the courthouse square!
During the early days of our country, the focus of Thanksgiving was on giving thanks to God, not on food and sport. But it’s interesting to know what would have been on the menu around the time George Washington made his Thanksgiving proclamation.
It’s likely that a Thanksgiving meal would have been similar to the wedding feast for Elizabeth and Adam that I described in Spring House:
A great feast of venison, wild turkey, hominy, and the traditional “johnnycake” or “Indian pudding” as the settlers preferred to call it followed the wedding ceremony. Indian pudding or johnnycake was made of the native Indian maize, which the settlers now called corn; to the ground corn, flour, milk, eggs, and molasses were added … with just a touch of corn whisky.
Whatever they ate, however, we know they took the time to give thanks to Almighty God for the blessings He had bestowed upon them.