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The Founders and Thanksgiving

When principles – like the one in Somerville, Massachusetts – are trying to ban holidays like Columbus Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving from being celebrated, something is wrong with our view of American history. The principle wrote of her decision to ban Columbus Day: “For many of us and our students celebrating [Christopher Columbus] is an insult and a slight to the people he annihilated. On the same lines, we need to be careful around the Thanksgiving Day time as well.”

But this argument ignores what the first Thanksgiving was originally – and still is – about. Thanksgiving was a time to give thanks to God for his bountiful blessings.

Among the first American settlers, the Pilgrims were faithful to give God thanks. Pilgrim Edward Winslow expressed their gratitude in the fall of 1621: “God be praised, we had a good increase of corn … by the goodness of God, we are far from want.” Winslow also records: “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling (turkey hunting), so that we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.” The Pilgrims invited Chief Massasoit and his tribe for three days of feasting, games and celebration. The good relations the Pilgrims (and Puritans) enjoyed with the Natives lasted some 50 years.

That tradition of Thanksgiving grew in colonial New England, and eventually spread. In fact, the Continental Congress issued a number of thanksgiving proclamations, like the one issued after the discovery of Benedict Arnold’s treason that also offered gratitude to God for “prospering the labours of the husbandmen, and causing the earth to yield its increase in plentiful harvests; and, above all, in continuing to us the enjoyment of the gospel of peace.”

A day after the first Federal Congress approved the Bill of Rights, which some claim includes the doctrine of “Separation between Church and State” in the First Amendment, they voted to ask President George Washington to proclaim a “National Day of Prayer” to thank God for the establishment of our government and for His blessings. On October 3, 1789, Washington issued the following: “Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the twenty-sixth day of November next, to be devoted by the People of these United States … That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks … for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed…”

The problem with the Somerville principal’s reasoning for banning Thanksgiving is that by claiming political correctness and sensitivity, one could easily forfeit nearly every holiday and celebration in America: The 4th of July could be condemned because the Declaration of Independence didn’t go far enough since it did not eradicate slavery; Veterans Day because of innocents unintentionally becoming casualties of war. Where does the PC madness stop? Instead of allowing our flaws to drive what we think about ourselves, how about celebrating what makes America great? Like the time-honored and entirely appropriate celebration and tradition of Thanksgiving!      

Kenyn Cureton is vice president for church ministries at the Family Research Council.

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