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Remembering Why We Give Thanks

But what you may not remember is how that classic special begins. Lucy dupes Charlie Brown into trying to kick the football (again), this time by telling him that a ceremonial kick-off is a holiday tradition, and that she’ll hold the ball while he does the honors. Naturally, Lucy jerks it away at the last second and he lands with a thud. Then she says, "Isn’t it peculiar, Charlie Brown, how some traditions just slowly fade away?"

I’m concerned that America has been duped, and an important Thanksgiving tradition is slowly fading away.

America’s founding fathers believed that individuals and nations should give thanks to their Creator. Public praises and petitions—specifically to the biblical God—have long been part of our culture. But in our lifetimes, that foundation has eroded. Many public schools today downplay the role of Christianity in early American history, going so far as to teach children that the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving in 1621 was organized to express gratitude to the Indians.

Setting the Record Straight
The truth of the matter is that, after two months at sea, the Mayflower’s 102 passengers arrived in Massachusetts in late November 1620. On Dec. 11 they signed the Mayflower Compact, stating that their purpose was "the Glory of God, and the advancement of the Christian faith." Although a harsh winter took the lives of half of the community, the summer’s farming efforts yielded a bountiful crop, due in part to assistance from friendly Indians.

On Dec. 13, 1621, the Pilgrims began a three-day feast to thank God and celebrate with the Indians. The words of Pilgrim Edward Winslow give insight into the meaning of the event: "Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling so that we might, after a special manner, rejoice together. Many of the Indians came amongst us, and their greatest king, Massasoit, with some 90 men, who for three days we entertained and feasted. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God we are far from want."

God’s gracious provision prompted other American leaders to call for days of Thanksgiving. Gov. William Bradford proclaimed Nov. 29, 1623, an official day of thanks. He wrote, "I do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for His blessings."

Days of Thanksgiving to God were declared and passed into law as the years went by. As governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson pronounced Nov. 11, 1779, a day of "public and solemn Thanksgiving to Almighty God." In 1785, New Hampshire Gov. John Langdon set aside Nov. 24 to "testify our gratitude to the Author of all our Mercies, and to confess our manifold transgressions." Langdon’s official decree also asked God to "bless our seminaries, and spread the Gospel over all the earth." Other states passed Thanksgiving decrees carrying similar sentiments.

With the unanimous approval of Congress, George Washington proclaimed that a national day of Thanksgiving be observed on Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789. In his official declaration, the president wrote that America was to thank God for His many blessings, ask forgiveness for national and personal sins, and pray that God would "promote the knowledge and practice of the true religion." In 1863, Abraham Lincoln passed a Thanksgiving resolution that quoted Psalm 33:12 and stated, "It is announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord."

God and Country Today
As recently as 1954, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren said, "I believe that no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book, and the Spirit of the Savior, has from the beginning been our guiding genius." He then cited a number of supporting evidences, concluding, "The same objective is present, a Christian land, governed by Christian principles."

Ironically, shortly after Justice Warren’s statements, rulings by his Supreme Court would begin to erode Christianity’s prominence in the United States. Fortunately, godly men such as Dr. D. James Kennedy, David Barton ( and Rev. Peter Marshall have stood in the gap over the years, speaking boldly about America’s Christian heritage.

"The voyage of the Pilgrims was very simply this: It was a church relocation project," the late Dr. Kennedy once told his congregation. "Plymouth Plantation was simply an extension of the church in Scrooby, England. … Historical revisionism. Is such a thing happening in this country? Dear friends, it has happened. And we are the victims of it."

Indeed, the culture would jerk the football away from us … if we let it. Are our children prepared to carry the torch and share the truth? Or will an entire generation be deluded into thinking that the Pilgrims were thankful for nothing more than corn and Massasoit’s hospitality? I suppose that depends on us. Let’s give our families a history lesson when we gather at the table this Thanksgiving.

Alex McFarland is Plugged In's teen apologetics expert. For more on his ministry and speaking schedule, visit