Keeping the Meaning of Thanksgiving Alive

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Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving today, a holiday tradition that dates back hundreds of years. But some say there's an attempt to remove the religious significance from this great American holiday.

President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving official in 1863. He proclaimed the last Thursday in November to be "a national day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent father who dwelleth in the heavens."

But for most of us - when we think of that first Thanksgiving - we think about the Pilgrims and the Indians.

Indians and Pilgrims

The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620. Their first winter was devastating. Weak and sick - they began to die. The Pilgrims needed help to survive and they got it from an English-speaking Indian named Squanto.

Historian Peter Marshall explained, "Here comes this American Indian suddenly who speaks perfect English, who offers them his services. So they plant all this corn under his tutelage. In October the corn is ripe finally, and they want to have a celebration, a Thanksgiving celebration."

Marshall continued, "So they invite Chief Massasoit, who had taken Squanto in when he had no family, no relatives. So Massasoit and 90 braves show up for this celebration festival, and they had a three day celebration of feasting, bow-and-arrow shooting contests, foot races and relay races and games."

Although some would say it was just a day of celebration - historical records show it was a time to give thanks to God.

"They looked at everything as a gift from God, even the sorrowful things they saw as God allowing that to perfect their character. So they were amazing Christians and great examples for us today," Rev. Paul Jehle said.

What It's All About

For a lot of people, Thanksgiving has become a day to watch football, eat turkey, and watch the Macy's Day Parade. While these are not bad things, some believe the most important part of Thanksgiving - giving thanks to God for our many blessings - is being down-played or left out altogether.

That's why private Christian schools like Stonebridge Christian School in Virginia make a point of teaching children the real Thanksgiving story - including the religious aspects.

"God was very much a part of that first Thanksgiving and we teach that," said Stonebridge history teacher Ed Sotto."

Parent Steve Elliott says he's glad his four daughters are learning the whole story.

And the students, who recently re-enacted the story of the Pilgrims at Jamestown, agree that the Thanksgiving story they're learning now is not the one they were taught in public school.

"In public school, we colored turkeys and it was all about the turkeys - like they were an idol," ninth-grader Anastasia Peele said.

Colson Vorwald, also in the 9th grade, said, "We were taught that the Pilgrims were thanking the Indians - not God - for the blessings."

What's sad is that here in the U.S. the day after Thanksgiving is often more celebrated than Thanksgiving itself. But many people like the teachers and students at Stonebridge are doing what they can to keep the true meaning of Thanksgiving alive.

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