Where Do Today’s Pilgrims Go Next?

Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in the U.S. on the fourth Thursday in November. Although sources can be found (e.g. Wikipedia) stating that Thanksgiving is “considered secular” and “can be traced to harvest festivals … celebrated … since ancient times”, that ignores an overwhelming abundance of evidence to the contrary. It’s certainly contradictory to what I was taught in my home, in my church, in my school and in my entire community; growing up in the U.S. And, its absolutely inconsistent with what’s in my heart, as I celebrate Thanksgiving … to give thanks to God for all that He blesses me with.

That “overwhelming abundance of evidence” starts with the foundational event for our Thanksgiving Day … the Pilgrims of Plymouth, MA, setting apart a day to celebrate their first harvest, in 1621. As to whether or not this celebration could be “considered secular”, you only need to consider who the Pilgrims were. These were people, originating in England, who didn’t accept the “divine right” of King James I and who were determined to honor only God, as their King. They ended up in Plymouth as the result of fleeing King James’ persecution. You can bet that the Pilgrims saw Thanksgiving as a Holiday (meaning Holy Day), set aside to express their thanks to God.

During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress appointed Thanksgiving days every year. In 1777, their declaration started by saying:

“FOR AS MUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received … (full text).”

You know, that doesn’t sound so “secular” to me.

The first Thanksgiving Day in the United States was designated by President George Washington, in 1789. His proclamation began with:

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits … (full text).”

That doesn’t sound very nuanced either, that its aim is Spiritual.

And, in 1863, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln set forth a proclamation, establishing the Thanksgiving Day we continue to observe. Lincoln opened his decree by stating:

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.” (full text)

The Spiritual intent is pretty hard to miss in that too.

So, where does this perception come from that Thanksgiving is “considered secular”? And, though its not what is taught in my home or in my church, why is it now commonly accepted in our schools and our communities? Even in the school where my Wife works, instead of celebrating Thanksgiving, they have a “Peace Meal”. What’s going on?

Sadly, I think what’s going on is similar to what was going on with the Pilgrims. Remember, Pilgrims were the people who were determined to honor only God, as their King. They ended up here as a result of being persecuted for this. Considering that the persecution was so intense that it finally drove them out of their homeland, I assume they were experiencing this persecution everywhere they went … in their communities, in their schools, in their churches and even in their homes. King James is long gone and it may seem melodramatic to refer to it as persecution but there’s no denying that the changes I’ve seen in our communities and our schools has been driven by those who don’t want to acknowledge God, in any way, let alone as their King. An added irony here is that its not uncommon for those taking this position to also be working to make America more like Europe … the very environment the Pilgrims fled. Considering this, how long will it be before they succeed at having their way in our churches and homes too?

Sooner or later, this reality must be confronted. I suggest that we begin by looking in the mirror to see that the Pilgrims are still here. I can’t say for sure that my European ancestors came here for the same reason as the Pilgrims but I, too, am determined to honor God as my King. So, even without the buckle hat, I recognize, I’m a Pilgrim too. However, I have no Mayflower to board and no New World to flee to. So, where do I, as one of today’s Pilgrims go next? For me, the answer is simple and it comes from the persecutor’s least favorite source … God’s Word (ironically, the King James version) … “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15. Meaning, I’m not going anywhere. For me, Thanksgiving Day will remain set apart to give thanks to God and I will honor only Him, as my King.

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