Imagine fleeing from your homeland after experiencing severe persecution for your faith, losing friends during a harsh winter in the New World, and barely surviving diseases like scurvy. These harsh events, and more, begin to describe what the Pilgrims went through in 1620 and 1621.
Looking back at the Pilgrims’ lives in Europe, they had good reason to leave everything behind and set out for the New World. The Church of England was under the rule of King Charles I, and political elites ruled over religious establishments. Being a Puritan (as the Pilgrims were sometimes called in England) meant being an outcast. The group of believers we now call the Pilgrims tried to reform the corrupt Church of England, but their efforts were unsuccessful. After their efforts failed, they escaped Europe, seeking a life where they could openly worship God without fear of tyranny. They embarked on a dangerous 66-day transatlantic passage to the New World on the Mayflower. Miraculously, only one person died during the treacherous voyage. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come.
When the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock in what is now the state of Massachusetts in December 1620, they lacked the proper shelter to withstand the cold, wintry conditions. Nearly half of the Pilgrims lost their lives during that winter. Despite these incredible difficulties, the Pilgrims kept their eyes set on the Lord, their ultimate Provider. God bountifully blessed them during their first harvest of 1621. Some of the Indians had learned English and helped the Pilgrims with means of survival in a new territory. The Indians’ kindness extended to showing the Pilgrims how to plant crops and hunt for meat.
Despite setbacks, hardships, and diseases, these pious people turned their hearts to God in thankfulness. Edward Winslow, then governor of Plymouth Colony, recognized God’s supreme provision for them, saying: “By the goodness of God, we are so far from want.” Fifty Pilgrims and 90 Indians gathered together as they bonded in fellowship over the fruits of their labor, holding the first Thanksgiving in America.
This familiar account should serve as a reminder for believers. In I Thessalonians 5:18, the Apostle Paul—under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—wrote, “In everything give thanks.” Believers are not to give thanks only when life is easy, but in all circumstances.
Christians, as we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving in 2023, may we be encouraged to have hearts of gratitude.