Anyone who has been in Hebrew Roots for a while is likely to have run across someone who claims Thanksgiving–like Christmas and Easter–is pagan. This article, I hope, will disprove their premise, and prove instead it was a type of Sukkot!
Question: But why do they think Thanksgiving is Pagan?
Answer: Because the English Harvest Home Festival was pagan.
Encyclopedia Britannica states this: “Harvest Home, also called Ingathering, is a traditional English harvest festival, celebrated from antiquity. It has survived to modern times in isolated regions. Participants celebrate the last day of harvest in late September by singing, shouting, and decorating the village with boughs. The cailleac, or last sheaf of corn (grain), which represents the spirit of the field, is made into a harvest doll and drenched with water as a rain charm. This sheaf is saved until spring planting. The ancient festival also included the symbolic murder of the grain spirit, as well as rites for expelling the devil. A similar festival was traditionally held in parts of Ireland, Scotland, and northern Europe.
Clearly, Harvest Home is pagan. But history recounts, from numerous primary sources like letters, diaries, and legal documents, that the Pilgrims had long before renounced Christmas and Easter for its popish and pagan origins. So they would not have been celebrating Brittan’s Pagan Harvest Home.
But before I continue with the Puritans, allow me to share what should be interesting facts to those in Hebrew roots, facts about Christopher Columbus. The following are excerpts from The Light And The Glory, by Peter Marshall and David Manuel.
“…Their final solution to the ‘Jewish problem’ was disseminated by a royal decree issued in the spring of 1492: All Jews were given three months to get out of the country. So Columbus had to settle for a heavier, slower flagship than he would have desired….As they reached the place where the Tinto joined the Saltés, just before emptying into the ocean, a last shipload of Jews was also waiting for the tide. They too were leaving now . . .It is doubtful they thought of one another beyond a routine log entry. And even if they had, none of that forlorn shipload of Jewish exiles could have dreamed that the three other ships on the river were leading the way to a land which would one day provide the first welcome haven to their people.”
Peter Marshall and David Manuel, in their for-mentioned book, included the following translated excerpt from an obscure volume of Columbus’s Book of Prophecies, available only in Spanish.
“It was the Lord who put into my mind (I could feel his hand upon me) the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies. All who heard of my project rejected it with laughter, ridiculing me. There is no question that the inspiration is from the Holy Spirit, because He comforted me with rays of marvelous inspiration from the Holy Scriptures…I am a most unworthy sinner, but I have cried out to the Lord for grace and mercy, and they have covered me completely. I have found the sweetest consolation since I made it my whole purpose to enjoy His marvelous presence. For the execution of the journey to the Indies, I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps. It is simply the fulfillment of what Isaiah had promised…”
More recently, a number of Spanish scholars–Jose Erugo, Celso Garcia de la Riega, Otero Sanchez and Nicholas Dias Perez–have determined that that Columbus was himself a Jew. His survival depended upon suppression of that fact during Spain’s Inquisition. But Jewish bloodline or not, he was indeed a believer in Yeshua, as his journal entries prove.
In their book, The Light and the Glory, the authors related the often inspiring, but ultimately sad end, due to Columbus’s succumbing to a lust for power and gold. His history set the tone for the rest of their book, written in the late 1980s, which documents the special call of God on America and those founding it–men and women who like the children of Israel made a covenant with God, only to have their descendants break it, time and time again.
The authors raise the question: What if God deals with whole nations the way he deals with individuals? After all, Israel, the nation and the people, was chosen to be a light to all other nations. And Deuteronomy 7:6-9 tells us that had they obeyed, they would have been mightily blessed. The problem was they never stayed faithful, never kept their covenant.
Now back to the Pilgrims. In the Plymouth Colony, from 1620s to 1850s Christmas and Easter, associated as they were with paganism and idolatry, were illegal. For this reason, I am quite sure that the Pilgrims did not celebrate that first Thanksgiving as Harvest Home. Furthermore, prior to their departure for the New World, those we call the Pilgrims had left England for Holland, in search of religious freedom. They remained in Holland a decade, living among Sephardic Jews, who had been expelled from Spain in 1492. For the ten years the Pilgrims spent there, they witnessed the celebration of that set apart time called Sukkot.
Like Sukkot, that first Thanksgiving in 1621 was eaten outdoors. And as the Jews, according to tradition, welcome friends to join them for a meal in the Sukkah, the Pilgrims invited the Wampanoag tribe to their first Thanksgiving table. According to history, the Wampanoag tribe feasted with them for three days. But how long did that first Thanksgiving last? Could it have gone on for seven days plus one? History doesn’t say. But that first Thanksgiving they recited Psalms 106 and 107, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His kindness endures forever,” as they do in Jewish liturgy for Sukkot.
William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Colony studied the Hebrew Scriptures, and history recounts that the Pilgrims saw themselves as a new chosen people being led to a new Promised Land based on the parable of the vineyard.
Matthew 21:38-41. But seeing the son, the vinedressers said among themselves, This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and possess his inheritance. And taking him, they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers? They said to Him, Bad men! He will miserably destroy them, and he will rent out the vineyard to other vinedressers who will give to him the fruits in their seasons.
I will leave you with one final item I found on a website for an extension course in literature from University of Kentucky. I know as part of the Hebrew Roots awakening, God’s last great move to restore all things before Yeshua returns (Acts 3:21), you will find this bit of history most gratifying. (I have changed the spelling on certain words in Bradford’s quote to modern English.)
“In 1650, three years after he had ceased to chronicle the happenings at Plymouth for posterity, and at the age of sixty years, William Bradford took up the study of Hebrew. In a copy book he listed over a thousand words and a number of common Hebrew phrases, with their English translations. Scholars have remarked that many of the words and phrases concern the duties of fathers to their sons. On one page he paused to explain why, at an advanced age, he had embarked on a new path of learning:
“Though I am grown aged, yet I have a longing desire to see, with my own eyes, something of that most ancient language, and holy tongue, in which the law and Oracles of God were written; and in which God and angels spoke to the Holy Patriarchs of old time; and what names were given to things at the Creation.
“For Bradford, learning Hebrew was an act of filial respect. It was an act of learned devotion with which a son of the Church wished to honor his spiritual forefathers, “the Holy Patriarchs of old time.” It was also Bradford’s way of returning to the origins of Christianity, thus of purifying his faith by seeking a more direct, unmediated experience of divinity. Rather than English biblical scriptures translated from the Latin, themselves translated from the Greek and Hebrew texts, Bradford wanted the originals in that “holy tongue” used to name things “at the Creation.”
So now that you have glimpsed the hearts and souls of those who celebrated that first American Thanksgiving, go ahead and buy that turkey. Invite your family and friends. It is never the wrong time to give thanks to Yahweh. And while you are still at the table, take a page out of that first Thanksgiving; have someone read Psalms 106 and 107.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving!