Episode 355: The Power of Thanksgiving

Episode Summary

In this episode, the week of Thanksgiving, we take a couple of minutes to celebrate and appreciate how blessed we are; we take a deeper look at all the magnificent people and the things in our lives we are grateful for.

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to our wonderful Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. At this special time of year, Thanksgiving, we’d love to express our gratitude and thanksgiving for you. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host for this Becoming Your Best podcast. We are inspired by the heart-penetrating quote by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This has never been truer today than at any time in the world’s history. This change in the world can be quiet, small, subtle, good, and a set of worthy acts and the world is never the same again. Those small, quiet, and subtle good acts can grow to have an impact far beyond what one could have ever imagined possible. An example of that is the simple, quiet, and enduring acts of the pilgrims and pioneers of the world. Often, these were individuals that struggled for survival — one foot in front of the other, wondering if they would even make it. But their thoughtful, committed passion for an idea and cause, moved them forward, working to do what seemed right and good. Today, we are the beneficiaries of these actions, simple as they may have been. Recently I saw a moving account of the early pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower in the new world on the History Channel. I would like to share parts of that account today. It begins with a background of Thanksgiving by sharing that Thanksgiving Day is now a national holiday, which is well-known in the United States, and it occurs on the 4th Thursday of each November. So, where did this tradition come from? The best we can tell, this is the background: In 1621, almost 400 years ago, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as perhaps the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t really until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. 

Well, let’s just think about this Thanksgiving at Plymouth. In early 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers — an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and very uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth. Did you know, for example? Let’s just put ourselves past there. And by the way, we know what these terrible winters are like on the New England Coast. They ate lobster, seal, and swans; that’s what was on the Pilgrims’ menu. Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy, and outbreaks of contagious diseases. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. It was extraordinary. 

In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans. So this Squanto is one example of these quiet small deeds, thoughtful, committed individuals that changed the world. It could be said that if it wasn’t for a mentor, someone like that, perhaps the Pilgrims may not have survived. 

In October 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford—and I might add, I am a direct descendant; he is my ninth great-grandfather—organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies to join them, including the Wampanoag chief, Massasoit. Now remembered as America’s “first Thanksgiving” — although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time, clearly, the festival lasted for three days and was full of thanksgiving. While no record exists of the historic banquet and what the menu was, the Pilgrim’s historian, Edward Winslow, wrote in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men on a fowling mission—hunting the fowl—in preparation for the event and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer. Historians have suggested that many of the dishes were likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. And because the Pilgrims had no oven and the Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621, the meal did not feature pies, cakes, or other desserts, which have become a hallmark of contemporary celebrations. It’s interesting because the Pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving celebration in 1623 to mark the end of a long drought that had threatened the year’s harvest and prompted Governor Bradford to call for a religious feast, also a fast preceding that feast. Days of fasting and thanksgiving on an annual or occasional basis became common practice in other New England settlements as well. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year, and in 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States; in it, he called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His successors, John Adams and James Madison, also designated days of thanks during their presidencies. 

You can imagine how powerful these days of Thanksgiving were to contemplate their roots, the struggles that they had come from, and the blessings that they had experienced prosperity through all these difficulties and setbacks. In 1817, New York became the first of several states to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday; each celebrated it on a different day. However, it was interesting that the American South remained largely unfamiliar with the tradition. And then in 1827, the noted magazine editor and prolific writer, Sarah Josepha Hale—an author, among countless other things, of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”—launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years, Sarah published numerous editorials and sent scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents, and other politicians. Remember, a thoughtful, committed, small group can change the world — well, this was the case with Sarah. Abraham Lincoln finally heeded her request in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, in a proclamation entreating all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day every year until 1939 when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s plan, known derisively as Franksgiving, was met with passionate opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November where it remains until today.  

It is likely that the Pilgrims were not the first to begin this tradition as many throughout the world thought to pause and give thanks. As a matter of fact, historians have recorded other ceremonies of thanks among European settlers in North America that predate the Pilgrims’ celebration. In 1565, for instance, the Spanish explorer, Pedro Menéndez de Avilé, invited members of the local Timucua tribe to a dinner in St. Augustine, Florida, after holding a mass to thank God for his crew’s safe arrival. On December 4, 1619, when 38 British settlers reached a site known as Berkeley Hundred on the banks of Virginia’s James River, they read a proclamation designating the date as “a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” Although the American concept of Thanksgiving developed in the colonies of New England, its roots can be traced back to the other side of the Atlantic. Both the Separatists who came over on the Mayflower and the Puritans who arrived soon after brought with them a tradition of providential holidays — days of fasting during difficult or pivotal moments and days of feasting and celebration to thank God in times of plenty. As an annual celebration of the harvest and its bounty, moreover, Thanksgiving falls under a category of festivals that spans cultures, continents, and millennia. In ancient times, the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans feasted and paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest. Thanksgiving also bears a resemblance to the ancient Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. Finally, historians have noted that Native Americans have a rich tradition of commemorating the fall harvest with feasting and merrymaking long before Europeans set foot on their shores. 

So I am grateful for those few thoughtful, committed citizens, committed people, committed individuals whose thoughts to pause and give thanks, including my 9th great-grandfather, Governor William Bradford, who continues to inspire me for so many good reasons continues today. How can you and I give thanks today? How can the spirit of thanksgiving be meaningful in our lives every day? 

May I suggest three actions we can take that are thoughtful and that can change the world? At least, our world. Number one is to carry a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving in your life because gratitude can help you maintain an abundant attitude which perspective enlarges your soul and helps you to have deeper and closer relationships and develop greater opportunities.  A wonderful activity that you can do with your family or team is to provide a blank sheet of paper and give each person 5-7 minutes to write down as many things as possible that you or they are grateful for.  Once completed, share some of the things that you came up with. So, how does this family activity impact you? Well, it’s really powerful and you can reflect on what are the things that you are grateful for. About 10 years ago, we did this activity as a family. Yesterday, I discovered the list created by my wife, Roxanne, who passed away two years ago.  The items she listed touched me just as much today as when she wrote them and I would like to share these with you today. Her gratitude continues to bless our family.  It is a powerful force for good. As I read these things that she is grateful for, perhaps they will create a reflection for you. We invite each one of you to consider participating in this activity by just pulling out a sheet of paper and writing down everything that you can think of that you’re grateful for, and who knows that in 10 years from now, and actually in the time between now and then, that it will continue to influence your life. Here we go. Things I am grateful for, done by my wife, Roxanne: Family, love, gospel, life, ernity, books, parents, children, problems, smiles, laughter, music, example, knowledge, truth, learning, the spirit, inspiration, hugs, kisses, ‘I love you’s, ‘thank you’s, kind words, successes, friends and home, warmth and air conditioner, scriptures, teachers, people who help us, differences and how people are different, especially those among us, fun times, growing times, our pets, Heavenly Father, health, talents, patience, food and air, flocks, medical help, reading, languages, transportation, living abroad, jobs, my citizenship, sports, education, weather, sun, moon, money, embeds. I love that. It’s a touching list. It means more to me today than it did at the time that we took it. So, this is very powerful. Every morning take a moment to pause and count your blessings. That’s one, is just take a moment and count your blessings.  

Number two: Look for the good in other people. Granted, good may be harder to find in some people more than others. However, look for the good in all people. Be patient. Try to bring out the good in all people that you encounter. Set a goal to make at least 3 compliments per day of things that you see in other people. They will benefit from this initiative on your part; however, you will gain and learn from others at the same time. Everyone wins. This creates a better and more productive world. 

Number three: Regardless of what happens in your life, say: What a blessing! And then think of a reason why it is s. This attitude will put you in a better place to handle all adversity and situations and to end up in a better place with a better attitude. May these three things: Count your blessings, look for good in other people, and regardless of what happens in your life, say, “What a blessing!” These three habits. Let them be a focus that will bless you and others throughout your life. These are the thoughtful, committed actions that change the world — at least your world and those around you.  

During this wonderful time of year, may you especially enjoy the spirit of Thanksgiving, while at the same time being committed to carrying this spirit 365 days a year throughout life. On behalf of the Becoming Your Best team, we want you to know how grateful we are for you. Happy Thanksgiving, now and forever. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, wishing you all the best today and always. 

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best
CEO, executive, corporate trainer, and community leader.
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