Remembering the meaning of Thanksgiving

When the 102 Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock in the fall of 1620, they were greeted by a New World filled with uncertainty, turmoil, and harsh conditions. Only half of the original settlers survived the first year, but despite the hardships faced, the Pilgrims still made it a point to spend time at the end of their first harvest with family and their community to feast and be thankful.

In 1785, Benjamin Franklin, organizational namesake for The Franklin Center, wrote an account of the first Thanksgiving. 

Franklin wrote that the first settlers frequently set aside days to fast and pray, seeking “relief from heaven by laying their wants and distresses before the Lord.”

When yet another one of these fasts was proposed in the colony’s Assembly, a farmer stood up and spoke out against the continued airing of grievances to the Lord. The farmer, concerned that the colonists “weary’d heaven with their complaints,” instead proposed giving thanks that their situation was improving. 

As the farmer put it, “their seas and rivers were full of fish, the air sweet, the climate healthy, and above all, they were in the full enjoyment of liberty, civil and religious.”

According to Franklin, the farmer’s advice was taken, and the first Thanksgiving was observed in the fall of 1621.

The entire Plymouth colony and some 90 Native Americans gathered for three days of feasts and entertainment, demonstrating that Thanksgiving has been a truly communal affair since the very beginning.

This Thanksgiving Day, as you deal with increased security at airports and rhetoric from Presidential candidates, it may be easy to focus on all that is wrong with our society. But we must remember the true purpose of Thanksgiving. The holiday is about putting in the time to connect with family, friends, community, and to let the people that matter in your life know how grateful we are to have them.

All too often we take the people we care about most, and the freedoms we have, for granted.

So as you sit on your couch stuffed, watching football this Thanksgiving, remember all those who have supported you and have helped you along the way in this chaotic world.

If the Pilgrims were able to find something to be thankful for as winter approached in the fall of 1621, we should all as Americans be able to find plenty to be thankful for as well.

This Thanksgiving Day be thankful for the freedom we have to feast, watch football, and gather with family — but most importantly let the people you truly care about know how important they are to you.

NOTE: Telford is President of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, which operates the network. This essay is reposted with his kind permission.