Today the people of the United States will observe their favorite holiday devoted to feasting and prayer.
The First Thanksgiving was a celebration by the Pilgrims who sailed from England to find religious freedom in the New World in 1621. The celebration was to commemorate their first successful harvest as a feast which lasted for three days.
One of the Pilgrims in the Plymouth Plantation, Edward Winslow, recorded that 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims attended. The harvest festival was an occasion to offer thanks to God who had protected them during the harsh winter in their new land and for sustaining them with an ample harvest.
Squanto, a Native American, befriended the English-speaking Pilgrims and taught them how to catch eels and how to grow corn. And the Chief of the Indian tribe, Massasoit, provided them with food supplies when their own were no longer sufficient.
Many years earlier before the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth Thanksgiving services were routine in the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1607 and the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia held a Thanksgiving feast in 1610.
It was, however, the first American President, George Washington, who issued a proclamation declaring Thanksgiving a Federal holiday in 1789. But it remained for the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, during the American Civil War between the north and the south in 1863, who declared that a national day of Thanksgiving was to be celebrated every year on the last Thursday in November
Lincoln declared that all Americans should offer “thanks and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in Heaven”. And ever since 1863 it has been the American National Holiday of giving thanks to God.
The early Pilgrim settlers were avid readers of the Bible and they found in the Hebrew scriptures 114 mentions of the words “thanks”, Thanksgiving” and “thankful”.
Thousands of years before a Pilgrim walked upon the earth, Jews everywhere awoke each morning to recite the very first prayer of the day, Modeh Ani…. I give thanks to You, Ever-Living God, who has restored my soul unto my body and enabled me to reach this day.
We bless God’s name before and after the foods we eat at each meal, giving thanks to Him for our sustenance.
Like all Americans, American Jews celebrate Thanksgiving Day with prayer and praise. And only after that do we hear the cry: “I’m hungry. Where’s the turkey and cranberry sauce? Let’s eat”.