Almost four centuries have passed since America celebrated its first Thanksgiving, a day where two distinct groups of people — the Pilgrims and the Native American Indians — put aside their differences and celebrated the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest.
As I have begun to learn more about its origins, the story behind the first Thanksgiving seems to be one of an unlikely hero who was able to bridge cultural differences and save a people group from starvation. In some ways there are even lessons for our generation.
Fast forward to today and we celebrate Thanksgiving as a day when friends and family put aside their work to feast and fellowship together. How edifying for a country to acknowledge a day when its citizens are encouraged not only to take time off from work but also to partake in feasting and in displaying gratitude.
However, the US is only one of seven countries that have an actual “Thanksgiving Day.” More than 90 percent of the world has never celebrated a day just to give thanks, and since Colombia is my native home, I was unaware of such a holiday until my family and I emigrated to Florida. It’s hard to believe that prior to our move, we barely knew about Thanksgiving nor the delicacies offered and enjoyed.
But have we ever considered the story behind the meal, the life-threatening obstacles that the Pilgrims endured with the aid of the Indians in order to hold the feast which we now commemorate annually? Have we even bothered to investigate just why Thanksgiving was held as a national holiday? Let’s look beneath the surface, for there are various lessons to be learned from a holiday such as this.
Examples from the past
This friendship between the colonists and Wampanoag Indians was all thanks to two Native Americans who taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate corn and helped them forge an alliance with the Wampanoag. The compassion of these natives saved a whole group of people from perishing altogether. This act of compassion set the foundation for future generations to learn and apply what their ancestors partook in. The very act changed history.
Officially, it wasn’t until President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863 that Thanksgiving was officially established as a national holiday to be celebrated in the US. During a time of tension between the North and the South, Lincoln sought to relieve their clashing through a day of Thanksgiving. He encouraged his fellow Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” With this knowledge, Thanksgiving is no average holiday; it is a testament of reconciliation between two distinct people groups. It is proof of God’s providence and sovereignty. It illustrates that a simple act of compassion can spark an astounding fire, a fire that still lives on today as we too try to find reasons to give thanks.
Hope for today
Thanksgiving’s history proves that there is a hope that we can cling to today: a hope that unity is not an extinct concept; a hope that does not erase our differences but allows us to look past them and grow together. Who knows? Maybe all we need is someone to bridge that gap between distinct people groups of today. Whether one is a Democrat or a Republican, unarguably both parties have something in common; they long to see their nation prosper. Whether one is of a different ethnicity, by moving to this country each ethnic group has shared its culture and learned to appreciate another’s culture in some form or another. The beauty in these similarities and differences is that, thanks to our country’s foundation as one nation under God, we are all created equal, and yet unique. This very foundation has allowed the US to be the flourishing melting pot it is today. Let not our differences destroy the very essence which allows us to take pride in the greatness of America, its warm embrace of the new.
This Thanksgiving, let’s work on putting aside our differences, knowing that it is possible to learn from each other, for we are one nation, one nation under God. As one nation, there is plenty to be thankful for. Thank God for unlikely heroes, thank God for a country that has not completely forgotten the value of gratitude, a nation that purposefully or not, has established a holiday with a timeless lesson — a lesson that proves that compassion can bridge together differences and mend barriers.
Estefania Hernandez is a student at Calvary Christian Academy and a Good News intern. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.