Psalm 95:1-3 – Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. (NIV)
Even though Canada and the United States celebrate Thanksgiving on different dates, many of the traditions surrounding the celebrations in both countries relate back to the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1620. After three months at sea, their resistance to disease was reduced, and more than half of them died that first winter, with only five people well enough to care for the sick.
Because they were unfamiliar with agriculture in this new land, their efforts at gardening were futile until the Patuxet Indians became aware of their plight and taught them how to hunt game, trap beaver, and plant Indian corn. The harvest of 1621 was abundant, and Governor Bradford declared a Day of Thanksgiving, to which the local Indian chief was invited. They were shocked when he arrived with ninety others! Their food supply was greatly depleted by the extra guests, and by thirty-five colonists who later arrived by ship with no food, extra clothing, or equipment. By the following spring, the Pilgrims were starving. The harvest in the second year was a dismal failure, so by the spring of 1623, their daily rations were reduced to five kernels of corn. In addition, twelve weeks of drought dried up their crops, and the Pilgrims, in desperation, prayed for eight hours straight. God answered their prayers with fourteen days of rain, and the harvest of 1623 was plentiful.
At the Thanksgiving celebration that fall, the first course was different: five kernels of corn on an empty plate lay before each person as a reminder of God's goodness to them.
Although Thanksgiving in Canada is on the second Monday in October, our family usually gets together on Thanksgiving Sunday. We honour this Pilgrim tradition of five kernels of corn on each person's empty plate, and we go around the table up to five times, once for each kernel, with each one telling something for which they are thankful. It is often an emotional experience, as stories of God's intervention are told and the names of significant people are mentioned.
Thanksgiving has largely become a secular holiday, so those of us who do have a living relationship with God must take care to be intentional in honouring the purpose of the day: giving thanks! Maybe the tradition of five kernels of corn will help us to do that.
Prayer: Lord, help us to be truly thankful for all of Your mercies. Even when times are tough, may we take our example from the Pilgrims who, despite enduring hardship and disaster, always maintained a spirit of gratitude. Thank You, Lord, not only for Your material blessings, but also for the knowledge that You love us so much that You would die to pay the penalty for our sins. Help us to love and respect You supremely in return. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.