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Give Thanks

Give Thanks

What is Thanksgiving?

What is Thanksgiving?  Is it turkeys and pumpkins, Pilgrims and Native Americans? Is it a big feast with family and friends?  Well those are some of the elements that accompany our celebration of Thanksgiving, but why did the Pilgrims have this celebratory feast with their new neighbors? Why do we still celebrate this holiday each year?

What many of us think of the first Thanksgiving was not really the first Thanksgiving at all.  Evidence of harvest celebrations are shown in the worlds oldest civilizations, and records of harvest celebrations have appeared in Cultures all around the world.  It is very likely that the the Pilgrims got the idea from their Jewish brothers and sisters and an ancient celebration called Sukkoth dating back more that 3,000 years. I came across this great article by Martha R. Gore. I believe it explains the connection with great clarity.

Thanksgiving: A Festival with Hebrew Roots

Ancient Israelites Celebrated the Harvest by Observing Sukkot

Festival of Sukkot in the Bible

Thanksgiving for the Hebrews is described in the 16th chapter of the Book of Leviticus in which God commands the ancient Israelites to observe the Feast of the Booths—in Hebrew, Sukkot, “to rejoice before Adonai your God” at the time of the fall harvest [16.11]. Writing in InterfaithFamily newsletter, Rabbi Elias Lieberman, explains that, “In the Jewish tradition, the Festival of Sukkot is a joyous occasion to give thanks and praise to the Source of Creation for the bounty we enjoy.” During this time, Jews erect a sukkah, a harvest booth, in which they eat their meals.

The Sukkat or Harvest Booth

The sukkah is a temporary structure, hung with fruits and symbols of the harvest season in which they eat their meals and sometime sleep during the festival. Its roof is thinly covered with branches, admitting sunlight, starlight, wind and rain, a reminder that the precariousness of existence in the face of the forces of nature. The sukkah is also a powerful reminder of the many reasons for all to feel grateful to God, not the least of which includes that during the other 51 weeks of the year blessings that there is a solid roof on homes, clothes to wear, and food to eat.

The Pilgrims and Reminders from the Bible

The Pilgrims shared the first Thanksgiving with Native America Indians in 1621 with three days of feasting in spite of often contending with illness, meager rations, disappointed hopes, and death. The hard winter before the first Thanksgiving had restricted some settlements to daily rations of food per person per day which was five kernels of corn. In memory of those times, some settlers put five kernels of corn on each plate at their first Thanksgiving feast.

The thread that runs from the Israelites in the wilderness to that of the Pilgrims and the harsh years they experienced while striving to put down roots in a new land. The Pilgrims were people of great faith, who like the Israelites about whom they had read in the Bible, were people of great faith who believed themselves to be sustained by God’s mercy an beneficence. That they should rejoice and give thanks at harvest time was as natural for the Pilgrims as it was for the ancient Israelites.

Rabbi Lieberman believes that “Thanksgiving and Sukkot come as a reminder that there is far more to be grateful for in this world than a bounteous crop. Both of these holidays encourage all to stop and acknowledge the manifold blessings God bestows upon us each and every day.”

~This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to set some time aside to truly thank God for the many blessings in your life.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Until Next Time,

Chris Sonksen


“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

1 Chronicles 16:34