The Harvest Festival
The first national Thanksgiving proclamation was made by the Continental Congress on December 18, 1777. On October 3, 1789 President George Washington, after receiving a request of Congress, declared a day of “thanks-giving and prayer” to be held on Thursday November 26, 1789. These proclamations did not create a “holiday” like we celebrate today with a day off from work and a turkey dinner. These set aside days were for giving thanks and praying to our Creator who provides our bounty.
While there are competing claims for the first Thanksgiving in the Americas we will briefly describe the “first” Thanksgiving held by the Pilgrims of Plymouth colony in the fall of 1621. The Pilgrims came to the shores of New England in 1620 to escape religious persecution in their homeland. Many died on the Mayflower during the voyage and more died during that first winter. The Pilgrims were familiar with celebrations in England for Christmas, Easter and harvest festivals but separated themselves from these because of the pagan influences that had found their way into these observances.
So in the fall of 1621, as a celebration of the harvest, the Pilgrims over three days feasted and had recreations. There were 53 Pilgrims in attendance and 90 Wampanoag Indians from a nearby village, including their leader Massasoit. The food served at this celebration consisted of venison and fowl. No other mention is made of the foods served. Today the only account of this harvest celebration is from William Bradford’s journal “Of Plymouth Plantation” and an account by Edward Winslow titled “Mourt’s Relations.“
Our traditions of turkey and all the fixin’s was later established through the efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale, who was the editor of a magazine called “Godey’s Lady’s Book.” After reading the accounts of a harvest celebration at Plymouth Colony and a mention of wild turkeys being stored up she wrote of the celebration and created recipes in order to reestablish this celebration. She began a letter writing campaign to a number of Presidents to establish a Thanksgiving Day. On October 3, 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the fourth Thursday of November would be recognized “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” This began the official observance of a day of Thanksgiving for the country.
Scripture is our focus and a harvest festival was established by God and celebrated by the nation Israel during the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot.
33 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 34 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the Lord. 35 On the first day shall be an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein. 36 Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: it is a solemn assembly; and ye shall do no servile work therein. 37 These are the feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord, a burnt offering, and a meat offering, a sacrifice, and drink offerings, every thing upon his day: 38 beside the sabbaths of the Lord, and beside your gifts, and beside all your vows, and beside all your freewill offerings, which ye give unto the Lord.
39 Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath. 40 And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. 41 And ye shall keep it a feast unto the Lord seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths: 43 that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. 44 And Moses declared unto the children of Israel the feasts of the Lord. (AV)
10 And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles, 11 when all Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: 13 and that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it. (AV)
God’s provision to Israel to celebrate the fall harvest and remember the wandering in the wilderness also extended to the Gentiles referred to as “thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: (Deuteronomy 31:12)
The provision of God’s mercy and example is to all people as this is the redemptive plan established by the Holy Trinity in eternity past. All scripture tells of this plan and is presented throughout the Old Testament as types and shadows of the coming Savior and is fully revealed in the New Testament when our Savior walked among us.
Jesus observed the feasts and during the Feast of Tabernacles at the Temple in Jerusalem:
37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. 38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (AV)
What greater celebration can we be a part of other than the fruits of God’s harvest of those who have accepted the free gift of everlasting life by believing in God’s son?
Today we at Phelps Chapel pray that you can spend this national “Day of Thanksgiving” with family and friends and remember that this holiday has as its roots a feast of the Bible to recognize our need for a Savior and who provides our daily bread.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving,