I thank God for the pilgrims
I asked my college students this extra credit question on a quiz: “When the Pilgrims gathered for their first Thanksgiving in 1623, to whom did they give thanks?” The answers may surprise you. More than 60 percent of the students said the pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians or the “King.” One person said, “Columbus.” Really? Just under 40 percent knew or guessed the right answer. Call me crazy, but I trust the history books written before the 1950s more than the ones today. For one thing, the older history books tell us that the Pilgrims had their first Thanksgiving celebration to give thanks to … God.
Dr. Paul Vitz, a professor of psychology at New York University, has studied the bias against religious references in public school texts. He reported, for example, the second grade text by Riverside (formerly Rand McNally) has 31 pages on the Pilgrims, but it describes them entirely without reference to religion.
One mother in an upper middle-class New York City suburb complained to the principal when her first-grade son was told by his teacher that the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians. The mother said it was simply a historical fact that Thanksgiving was a time when the Pilgrims gave thanks to God, but the principal replied that the mother’s position “was just opinion and not documented fact,” and therefore the school could not teach it. The principal said, “they could only teach what was contained in the history books.”
This is what William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony, said:
“… I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November ye 29th of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.” Thanksgiving is a time to “Give thanks to the Lord! Call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples.” With that in mind, I offer this meager poem as a reminder of the lessons God teaches us through the Pilgrims.
Men of courage and women of honor, Children wide-eyed with excitement, A journey of 65 days across the Atlantic, One crewman and one passenger lost, One baby, Oceanus, born, The Pilgrims landed and the new world was Forever changed. Brutal winter brought sickness and death, Spring came none too soon, And found the weary Pilgrims cut in half, Forty-six were gone. The Wampanoag came in spring and taught The Pilgrims how to plant and fish and live, And God rekindled hope. With harvest time, the Pilgrims rejoiced, And asked their friends to come and share. Massasoit and ninety of his people came And feasted for three days. The Governor led the Pilgrims in giving thanks To God for His providential care, And the colony bowed their heads. O God our help in ages past, We stand in debt to the Pilgrims, For their courage to come and their Faith to stay, For their Compact of laws that laid a Foundation, for their zeal to teach and reach The lost. We give thanks today, O Lord, And we commit our lives again to You. Though the path ahead may bring suffering or death, Give us Pilgrim courage and faith to stay In the Plymouth place where You have planted us, With hope that does not disappoint And love that does not fail.