Fall harvest festivals have been celebrated since time immemorial in cultures around the world. The American tradition of Thanksgiving is traced to a fall dinner in 1621 near Plymouth Rock in present-day Massachusetts.
According to many historical sources, the European immigrants who sat down to the first Thanksgiving enjoyed a meal they had good reason to be grateful for.
Many of the first settlers to the New World faced starvation and disease, as well as hostilities from Native Americans. The first Thanksgiving dinner was attended by Wampanoag Indians and represents a moment of shared thanks and mutual understanding between Europeans and Native Americans.
According to the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Mass., the Pilgrims did not call this harvest festival in 1621 a “Thanksgiving,” though they did give thanks to God.
“To them, a Day of Thanksgiving was purely religious,” the museum reports on its website. “The first recorded religious Day of Thanksgiving was held in 1623 in response to a providential rainfall.”
Only in 1863 did President Abraham Lincoln proclaim Thanksgiving an annual national holiday. Since then it has become a time to give thanks for the bounty of life, particularly after the fall harvest season.
“The Bible has a lot to say about giving.”
Wood River Assembly of God
Many diverse spiritual communities in the Wood River Valley celebrate the holiday with a mix of religion, history and the universal expression of gratitude.
Wood River Assembly of God Pastor Mark Clementz provided a free Thanksgiving feast for 100 in his Hailey congregation last weekend, with all the trimmings.
“The Bible has a lot say about giving,” Clementz said of the holiday. “The connotation is that we don’t give just to get. God put the innate giving quality in us. He gave his own son to us to redeem us. With Thanksgiving, we are thankful that he did that for us. One way you are thankful is by giving to others.”
Father Ken Brannon, of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sun Valley, will this year host the Wood River Valley Interfaith Association’s Thanksgiving service today, Nov. 21, at 5:30 p.m. at St. Thomas. Six congregations will participate in the ceremony, including Catholic, Jewish and New Thought non-denominational members.
“The service will be in the Episcopal style,” Brannon said. “But we will choose hymns and readings that will be comfortable for a diverse group of people, ones which emphasize our common humanity and dependence upon God for all good gifts. There will not be a heavy historical emphasis on Native Americans, but we will celebrate a posture of gratitude and how that makes life worth living.”
Brannon said his church and many others raise money this time of year for helping those in need in the community. He said those in need are identified first by the St. Luke’s Center for Community Health and by the nonprofit Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in Hailey.
The Wood River Jewish Community, which holds services throughout the year at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, will participate in the Interfaith Association’s service.
“We think it is a very important holiday to pause and give thanks for everything.”
“We are very thankful to join with other denominations celebrating our diversity, sharing and giving to the community,” said Julie Roos, co-president of the Wood River Jewish Community. “We also participate monthly in the Souper Supper [charitable dinner] program at St. Charles Catholic Church in Hailey, providing dinner for the community.”
Bruce Jensen, president of the nine congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Blaine County, said there will be regular Sunday services over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
“We think it is a very important holiday to pause and give thanks for everything,” Jensen said. “For family, community and nation, and for all that our heavenly father gives to us.”
Jensen said his church also recognizes the historical significance on Native Americans in the celebration of Thanksgiving.
Hailey resident and Buddhist meditation group leader Kristin Fletcher said giving thanks on Thanksgiving represents two fundamental teachings of the Buddha: the generosity of spirit and the interconnectedness and interdependence of all things.
“This spirit is reflected in the story told of the first Thanksgiving between the Massasoit Indians and the Plymouth Colony, an act we still celebrate nearly 400 years later,” Fletcher said. “This sense of generosity and interconnected interdependence was summarized in a well-known saying of the Buddha: ‘If you knew, as I do, the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing some of it.’ As a Buddhist, this is what Thanksgiving is to me—connecting wholeheartedly with others.”