Small Beginnings

Written by Marlin Detweiler

Like many things in history a little event can become a national holiday. The Plymouth settlers are routinely credited for the first Thanksgiving, yet there are only two known quotes of the event, and they are so short that they are included in their entirety below:


From Edward Winslow:


Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might, after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming among us, and among the rest their greatest king, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation, and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.[1]

And from William Bradford:

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwelling against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.[2]

The celebration of Thanksgiving is something that virtually all of us celebrate—Christian and non-Christian alike. The origination of it is clearly and historically undeniable. Yet some try. Gary Demar of American Vision writes:


Some particular examples of the bias against religion are significant. One social studies book has thirty pages on the Pilgrims, including the first Thanksgiving. But there is not one word (or image) that referred to religion as even a part of the Pilgrims’ life. One mother whose son is in a class using this book wrote me to say that he came home and told her that “Thanksgiving was when the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians.” The mother called the principal of this suburban New York City school to point out that Thanksgiving was when the Pilgrims thanked God. The principal responded by saying “that was her opinion”—the schools could only teach what was in the books.”[3]


Oh, boy.


Thankfully, that’s the best the world has to offer in their attempt to remove the Triune God from history and removing thanking God from Thanksgiving. Now I’m not naïve. I am well aware that many in America fail to or refuse to thank God for His goodness at the bountiful table of a Thanksgiving Feast. Yet everyone understands that Thanksgiving was giving thanks to God in its origin. Well, OK, there’s one exception somewhere in New York.


But what about this idea that a small, seemingly common event in 1621 in Plymouth becoming a national phenomenon—a national holiday?


Well . . . here’s the point. Do you have holiday memories from your own childhood that you treasure? Below you will read of my wife’s childhood memories. I have my own fond memories, and our children will have theirs. They are not identical, but the memories of my wife and my memories inform the traditions that will become the memories of our children. These memories are not just warm, fuzzy thoughts of friends and family. They are not just sappy Thomas Kincade pictures in our minds. They are visible, clear demonstrations of the covenant faithfulness of the God we worship.


You may not have been raised in a faithful Christian home, but I suspect your children are. Someday they will enjoy the blessing of fond memories of turkey and dressing (i.e., stuffing, filling or any number of other terms used for this mundane phenomenon). They will look back at these moments in their upbringing and praise God with gratitude for His goodness. They will pass their memories on to their children.


So, we encourage you to establish rituals and traditions packed with meaning and articulated frequently for the understanding of even the littlest ones. Then maybe, someday some tiny little thing like a celebration or a commitment to inculcate Christian thinking in even the most mundane and ordinary will, like the first Thanksgiving, sweep the world. Now that’s a Christian education that makes a difference.