Thanksgiving background

What the Pilgrims Had to be Thankful For

This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 1970 issue of Pioneer Magazine

Thankful Despite Bereavements and Disappointments: Pains and Heartaches.”

Mostly Faith & Confidence In Overruling Power

THREE HUNDRED and fifty years ago a proclamation was issued to a little group of on the bleak shores of Plymouth, to meet, worship and render to God. That was the first Thanksgiving Day in America.

It is well for us to think of that and for what those Pilgrims had to be thankful. They had landed in the previous November, 1620 and many had to live on the throughout that winter for they had neither suitable clothing or shelter. Consequently, when they did go ashore and entered the cabins of the 19 families, there were seven times more graves than there were houses for the living: and yet they had gratitude in their hearts for the blessings of God.

Those blessings consisted of faith and confidence in an Overruling Power, and truly the Lord had overseen their journey to Holland and their subsequent voyage across the sea. They had not forgotten His Divine Providence. Death to them was not a tragedy so long as they had that faith and freedom — the privilege of worshiping God as their conscience dictated.

Thankful For Food

They were happy and thankful to find sufficient sustenance in the corn and barley they had planted. They were not practical hunters at first. But they succeeded on that first Thanksgiving in securing from the forests turkeys and venison; and they had the friendship of the Indians — particularly Chief Massasoit and his braves. They must have had in attendance a hundred percent of their little group to worship that day.
Gratitude is deeper than thanks. Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words; gratitude is shown in acts.

It is well for all to consider our attitude towards blessings for which we should be most grateful: not just the temporal blessings — our harvest, profits, etc. Our Thanksgiving might be entirely selfish, if we are thinking only of the success that has attended our investments, if we are grateful only for good , if we are going to express thanks for sufficient income to pay our obligations.

Essentially Religious

The observance of Thanksgiving Day should be, in the best sense, religious. When President George Washington issued the first proclamation, he called attention to reliance upon God and urged the people to meet and express their gratitude, not merely for the temporal things but for the Constitution that gives to men liberty and for favorable attitudes of other nations toward this country.

It might be well to review the feelings and emotions with which we approach Thanksgiving Day. There are some with whom things have gone well. The family circle has remained unbroken. No devastating sickness has come into the home. Prosperity has left its blessings. The table is laden with plenty. There is meat in the larder and grain in the storehouse. Because of these things they imagine they are grateful; but such gratitude is the essence of selfishness. It finds its basis in circumstances; it draws its inspiration from clear skies and smooth sailing, and hence it is as fitful and efflorescent as the alternations of sunlight and shadow.

If these conditions of comfort and prosperity are in themselves the ground for thankfulness, where in the hour of adversity shall we find occasion for rejoicing?

The Graver Side

The record of the past has its graver side. There have been pain and losses, disappointments, bereavements and heartaches. Where in those things is there grounds for gratitude? Has the empty larder, the bare table, the desolate home, the vacant chair, the first mound in the cemetery, no place for thanksgiving?

Here is the point of stumbling for many an earnest soul. We find in the bitter chill of adversity the real test of our gratitude; and that is the true gratitude, which, triumphing over conditions merely physical and external, finds its ground for thankfulness in God Himself. It is independent of circumstances. It goes beneath the surface of life, whether sad or joyous, and founds itself upon God.

Laying aside the thought of prosperity, let us consider four or five things for which everybody, rich or poor, well or sick, may express gratitude this Thanksgiving time. The realities in life, after all, are the things which bring joy and happiness; and too many people in the world fail to appreciate these realities.

First For Life Itself

The first great reality for which we should be thankful is life itself. Life is a mystery to most of us, but all should be grateful for it. Life is the highest gift that God can give to man. And there is no person, so crippled, so poor, so oppressed, who should not be grateful for it.
The second fundamental for which we should be grateful is the free agency God has given us — freedom and liberty vouchsafed by the Constitution of the United States.

Another reality for which you and I may express gratitude is our noble parentage. No matter how poor we are, how crippled we may be, we have received this blessing; and if we have not, then we have the freedom to make that name a worthy one.

Let us now, since it is Thanksgiving time once again, express gratitude for opportunities to render in the Church — service to our fellow men, not just to self. If you would be happy, make somebody else happy. This is a fundamental law of Christ and the Church is so organized that every person may have an opportunity in some way to render service to somebody else.

It is the time for thanksgiving.once again; let us remember that, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40)

—President David O. McKay in “Pathways to Happiness”

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