Should We “Keep Thanksgiving”?
C. E. Coover and family
How Did The Holiday Start?
The New Standard Encyclopedia informs us that: “In the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony held a festival to celebrate the harvest. This thanksgiving celebration, doubtless suggested by the harvest festivals that the Pilgrim settlers had known in Europe, is generally considered the origin of Thanksgiving Day in America . After the crops were gathered, Governor Bradford proclaimed a feast day. The colonists invited the friendly Indian chief Massasoit to join them. He and his 90 braves came with venison. Feasting lasted for three days.
“Another Pilgrim thanksgiving was held in 1623. This thanksgiving, in celebration of relief from a long drought and the expected arrival of a ship bearing supplies, was marked by religious services as well as by feasting.” (New Standard Encyclopedia, Volume 13, page T-212)
Originally, then, the celebration was not a nationally organized holiday. The Pilgrims had had many difficulties in their new environment, and several times when providential relief or blessing seemed abundantly bestowed upon them, their hearts swelled with gratefulness. It could be likened to when the prodigal son returned home, and immediately a feast was made.
Something to stop and think about, though, is that American history, as it is told to us, causes us to think that “Thanksgiving” originates with the early European settlers’ harvest festival described above. However, it is interesting to note that when you look up the holiday in the New Standard Encyclopedia, there is not one word mentioned about the Pilgrims calling the celebration, “Thanksgiving Day”. The encyclopedia simply says: “In the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony held a festival to celebrate the harvest.” It continues: “This thanksgiving celebration….. is generally considered the origin of Thanksgiving Day in America .” ( New Standard Encyclopedia, Volume 13, page T-212) Remember, though, that Thanksgiving did not become a nationally unanimous annual holiday until 1863, over two hundred years after the Pilgrims’ festival. Also, take note to the fact that the encyclopedia does not tell us what dates the Pilgrim’s celebration took place on, and it simply calls it “a festival to celebrate the harvest”. Is it possible that the Pilgrims were keeping a feast right around or during Sukkot? Is our nation grasping at bits of history which have nothing to do with today’s Thanksgiving, and erroneously telling us that that is where the holiday originated?
How And Why Did “Thanksgiving” Become A National Holiday ?
New Standard Encyclopedia: “An annual thanksgiving festival became customary in New England and, after the American Revolution, in many parts of the newly formed United States . President Washington issued a general proclamation for a day of thanks on November 26, 1789, at the setting up of government under the Constitution.
“By the middle of the 19th century, many states celebrated thanksgiving days. Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the influential magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, wrote several articles advocating a national day of thanksgiving. In 1863 President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November of that year as Thanksgiving Day. His successors continued to proclaim Thanksgiving and usually chose the last Thursday of November.” (New Standard Encyclopedia, Volume 13, pages T-212, T-213)
Let us stop and think about this for a little while. It is understandable that when the Pilgrims were in distress and Yahweh’s aid pulled them through in a marvelous way, that they should desire to feast and rejoice. But how and why did “Thanksgiving” become a national holiday?
Due to the influence of a female author and the proclamation of America ‘s presidents, it became a uniform holiday all over America .
In the human heart, there is a craving for times of joint celebration and feasting. Yahweh knew that, and commanded times like this. One such commanded festival is Tabernacles. Leviticus 23:39 ~ “Also the fifteenth day of the seventh month when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a Feast unto Yahweh for a week. On the first day shall be a Sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a Sabbath.” Deuteronomy 16:13-14 ~ “Thou shalt keep the Feast of Tabernacles for a week, after that thou hast gathered in from thy threshing-floor and from thy winepress: and thou shalt rejoice in thy Feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, and the Levite, and the sojourner, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates.”
What happens when we don’t keep Yahweh’s days? 1 Kings 12:28-33 ~ “Whereupon [King Jeroboam] took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto [the people], It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: Behold thy elohim, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.’ And he set the one in Bethel , and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan. And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi. And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah , and he offered upon the alter (so did he in Bethel ), sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. So he offered upon the alter, which he had made in Bethel , the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart: and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel , and he offered upon the alter and burnt incense.”
When man does not keep Yahweh’s instructions, he devises days and practices of his own heart. Readers may find it interesting to note that this year, the ninth visible new moon was spotted on November 22nd. This means that this year “Thanksgiving Day” falls on the day immediately following the eighth month of Yahweh’s calendar, placing it very close in timing to Jeroboam’s counterfeit harvest festival. Mark 7:6-9 ~ “This people honoreth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit, in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of Elohim, ye hold the tradition of men…. Full well ye reject the commandment of Elohim, that ye may keep your own tradition.”
What Ever Happened To The Indians?
Referring back to the encyclopedia we find that: “The colonists invited the friendly Indian chief Masssasoit to join them. He and his 90 braves came with venison. Feasting lasted for three days.” (New Standard Encyclopedia, Volume 13, page T-212) After that first gathering, there is no more mention of the Indians. History, however, tells us what happened to them. They were lied to by the government. They were cheated. Their land was stolen from them. They were enslaved and killed. And they were herded onto little tiny areas of land where they could no longer retain their lifestyle and self-sufficiency.
How do you think the Indians feel about “Thanksgiving Day”? It’s easier not to think. It’s easier just to tell about how the Indians participated in a fall harvest festival once, the white man patting themselves on the back for inviting them, and then forget about them. But it won’t do to forget about them. Let’s read a letter written by Chief Seattle.
“The Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. How can you buy or sell the sky – The warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. Yet we do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water. How can you buy them from us. Every part of this earth is sacred to my people.
“We know that white man does not understand our ways. One portion of the land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother but his enemy and when he has conquered it he moves on. He leaves his fathers’ graves and his children’s birthright is forgotten.
“There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities. No place to hear the leaves of spring or the rustle of insect wings. But perhaps because I am a savage and do not understand – the clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lovely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frog around the pond at night?
“The Whites too shall pass – perhaps sooner than other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste. When the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses all tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the eagle? Gone. Where is the buffalo? Gone. And what is it to say goodbye to the swift and the hunt, the end of living and the beginning of survival?” (Chief Seattle to President Franklin Pierce, 1855)
Thus we see that Thanksgiving is a patriotic day. It is a day to rejoice in the abundance that we have, the abundance that is ours as a result of taking it away from another. It is a day to feast on the blessings that have become ours, and to forget him whom our fathers have shortchanged and abused, and whom this nation continues to oppress. We can be thankful for what Yahweh has given us, but do we want to be thankful for what this country has done? If you or I were Indians, we would not be keeping Thanksgiving. If we lived in any country other than America , we would not celebrate the last “Thursday” of November as “Thanksgiving Day” every year. Would this mean that we were not thankful? No. Then why, just because we were born in America , do we keep this national celebration?
What Is The Purpose Of Thanksgiving Today?
We would do well to consider what the true purpose was of the Pilgrims’ festival, what the true purpose is of Thanksgiving, and whether or not the two separate occasions even compare.
New Standard Encyclopedia: “In the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony held a festival to celebrate the harvest.” (New Standard Encyclopedia, Volume 13, page T-212) The Pilgrims’ festival was celebrated at the completion of the crop ingathering (perhaps even Tabernacles time). New Standard Encyclopedia: “After the crops were gathered, Governor Bradford proclaimed a feast day.” (New Standard Encyclopedia, Volume 13, page T-212) Deuteronomy 16:13 ~ “Thou shalt keep the Feast of Tabernacles for a week, after that thou hast gathered in from thy threshing-floor and from thy winepress.” Has the commercialized Thanksgiving that this nation knows really been placed in the harvest season though? The only thing that people might be harvesting at this time of year is soybeans or livestock corn. One cornucopia display showed a pumpkin (which would have been harvested in early Fall), grapes and apples (which are harvested in late Summer or early Fall), and cucumbers (which are gathered all Summer long). When Yahweh commands a harvest festival, He places it in harvest time. When man develops his own counterfeit festivals, such as Jeroboam did, it appears that he gets quite off schedule.
If Thanksgiving Day is really not a harvest feast, what is its purpose? New Standard Encyclopedia: “In 1939, 1940, and 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed as Thanksgiving Day the next-to-last Thursday in November. His reason for this break with custom was to stimulate business by lengthening the shopping period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But many states observed the last Thursday of November, and in 1941 Congress passed a joint resolutionsigned by Roosevelt on December 26making the fourth Thursday in November of every year Thanksgiving Day.” (New Standard Encyclopedia, Volume 13, page T-213) Thanksgiving has been moved to the last “Thursday” of November again, but this excerpt from the Encyclopedia causes us to stop and think a little. “Thanksgiving Day” today is not just “Thanksgiving Day”. It is part of a pagan holiday season. It is what helps keep people in the festive mood between Halloween (a day celebrating evil spirits and witches) and Christmas (the day on which many pagan idols were said to have been born, and which has been designated as Messiah’s birthday as well, when in reality He was born in the Autumn, sometime around or during the commanded Scriptural harvest festival). “Thanksgiving” is the day before Black Friday, which is the launching of the month-long shopping spree that is no doubt connected with the December 25th holiday. Thus we see “Thanksgiving” being a preparation day for Christmas, as well as a bridge between Halloween and Christmas, two undoubtedly pagan celebrations.
Colossians 2:6-8 ~ “As ye have therefore received Messiah Yahshua the Master, so walk ye in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Messiah” Tradition – We would do well to stop and think about that word a little. Where do we get our traditions? Is “Thanksgiving Day” what we have therefore received of Messiah Yahshua, or would it be better classified as “the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world”?
Who Keeps The Holiday ?
The New Standard Encyclopedia tells us that: “[Thanksgiving] is a day set aside to give thanks for the blessings of the year. Thanksgiving Day is usually observed with religious services and with family celebrations.” (New Standard Encyclopedia, Volume 13, page T-212) However, we are all aware of the fact that, while “Thanksgiving” is a religious day for some, for many many others it is simply a day to get together and have a big meal. Why? Because the holiday is not only kept by religious people. Mark 7:6 ~ “This people honoreth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” Every year, on the last “Thursday” of November, atheists have their turkey dinner. So do those who aren’t sure if Yahweh exists or not. So do Catholics. So do Christians ~ both devout ones and non-committal ones. What about Israelite believers (Messianics / Nazarenes)? For most, the answer is yes. It appears as though the turkey has become a yearly household “animal sacrifice” which is embraced by Americans of many different religions and walks. Isaiah 8:11 ~ “Yahweh spake unto me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people…”
Re-Evaluating “Thanksgiving Day”
The simple fact that someone uses the word “Thanksgiving” (honoring Him with their lips?) does not necessarily mean that they are thankful. In this day and age, “thanksgiving” has come to be a noun rather than an action word. While true thanksgiving is something that we are to DO, for many the word has merely become a synonym with “turkey dinner”. This year, and in years past, different people asked us if we keep Thanksgiving. When we replied “No”, they responded, “You mean you won’t be having turkey?” The question was not: “You mean you aren’t thankful?” People have forgotten what thanksgiving really means.
Thanksgiving Day, as a national holiday, is celebrated by a hodge podge of all kinds of people. Let’s stop and think: Do we want to be a part of that hodge podge? Yahshua said regarding His disciples (which should include us), “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Set them apart through Thy truth; Thy Word is truth.” (John 17:16-17) Is “Thanksgiving Day” something which we have received from Yahweh’s Word? Is it something which sets us apart?
Does Elohim honor substitute days which replace the set-apart days that He has commanded? Do we? Are the celebrations which America has declared of any special importance to Yahweh? Are they to us? Does the Almighty approve of the world’s holiday seasons? Do we? Does Yahweh want us to be one with the world? How different from the world are we willing to be? Matthew 5:16 ~ “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and esteem your Father which is in heaven.”
Conclusion: What Is Real Thanksgiving?
Just because we don’t “KEEP Thanksgiving” doesn’t mean that we aren’t thankful. The Scriptures teach that we are to DO thanksgiving. Psalm 100:4 ~ “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His Name.” Psalm 147:7 ~ “Sing unto Yahweh with thanksgiving: sing praise upon the harp unto our Elohim.” Philippians 4:6 ~ “In everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known unto Elohim.” Psalm 30:11-12 ~ “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: Thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness: to the end that my esteem may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent: O Yahweh my Elohim, I will give thanks unto Thee forever.” Psalm 95:2 ~ “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms.” Colossians 4:2 ~ “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” Revelations 7:11-12 ~ “And all the messengers stood round about the Throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the Throne on their faces, and worshiped Elohim, saying, Halleluyah. Blessing and esteem and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be unto our Elohim for ever and ever. So be it.’ ” Scripture says nothing about keeping “Thanksgiving Day”. It does say however that we will be thanking Yahweh forever and ever, throughout all eternity. May our heart cry be: “Thy will be done, as it is in heaven, so on earth.”