Family Guide to Thanksgiving for the American Christian Home, Church, and School

Family Guide to Thanksgiving for the American Christian Home, Church, and School

The Biblical tradition of Thanksgiving offers to every Christian the opportunity to focus the heart and mind upon Divine blessings. To every American Christian, the Thanksgiving holiday presents a timely reminder of our Pilgrim forefathers and the legacy of faith and principle which provided the foundation for America’s religious and civil liberty.

Governor William Bradford’s journal, Of Plymouth Plantation, provides an authentic account of the stalwart Pilgrim families who planted in New England the tradition of individual and local self government which set the course for our nation.

A great many aspects of the Pilgrim character and principle are worthy of our thoughtful attention. Let us summarize for you just a few which may be helpful to your own individual Thanksgiving celebration.

Their desires were set on the ways of God. In times of difficulty they steadfastly rested on God’s Providence.

The colonists expressly desired to advance the gospel in the New World. Bradford wrote: “A great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but even as stepping- stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”

The colonists were Divinely prepared to exercise local self government in Plymouth after years of exercising individual self government and local church government.

The Pilgrim Thanksgiving directly reflected their heartfelt gratitude to God. In 1623 after two winters of near starvation, the colony discontinued holding “all things in common” and established private enterprise. They looked forward to reaping an adequate harvest. Their hopes faded, however, when a drought, lasting from the third week in May until the middle of July, threatened to destroy their crops.

“Upon which they set apart a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress. And he was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer, both to their own, and the Indian’s admiration, that lived amongst them. For all the morning, and greatest part of the day, it was clear weather and very hot, and not a cloud or any sign of rain to be seen, yet toward evening it began to overcast, and shortly after to rain, with such sweet and gentle showers, as gave them cause of rejoicing, and blessing God. It came, without either wind, or thunder, or any violence, and by degrees in that abundance, as that the earth was thoroughly wet and soaked therewith. Which did so apparently revive and quicken the decayed corn and other fruits, as was wonderful to see, and made the Indians astonished to behold; and afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather, as, through his blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing. For which mercy they also set apart a day of thanksgiving.” William Bradford

In the midst of our abundant blessings, may we reflect upon God’s Hand. May we pass on to the next generation the rich principles of our Pilgrim fathers.

Ruth Smith


Tips for using these resources:

The following compilation of resources can be used for-

  • reading aloud,
  • studying as a family, homeschool, or Sunday School small group or class
  • beginning a new tradition in your home, church, or school

New Resource from Pilgrim Institute

The Flow of Power in Civil Government 

Direct your student’s thinking regarding the flow of power in civil government in society.

Pilgrim Institute Flow of Power in Civil Government by Ruth Smith & Jeanette Whittaker

Opportunities for Reading Aloud and Study

Bradford’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

“I may not here omite how, notwithstand all their great paines & industrie, and ye great hops of a large cropp, the Lord seemed to blast, & take away the same, and to threaten further & more sore famine unto them, by a great drought which continued from ye 3. weeke in May, till about ye midle of July, without any raine, and with great heat (for ye most parte), insomuch as ye corne begane to wither away, though it was set with the moysture wherof helped it much. Yet at length it begane to languish sore, and some of ye drier grounds were partched like withered hay, part wherof was never recovered. Upon which they sett a parte a solemne day of humilliation, to seek ye Lord by humble & fervente prayer, in this great distrese. And he was pleased to give them a gracious & speedy answer, both to their owne, & the Indeans admiration, that lived amongest them, For all ye morning, and greatest part of the day, it was clear weather & very hotte, and not a cloud or any signe of raine to be seen, yet toward evening it begane to overcast, and shortly after to raine, with shuch sweete and gentle showers, as gave them cause of rejoyceing, & blesing God. It came, without either wind, or thunder, or any violence, and by degreese in yt abundance, as that ye earth was thorowly wete and soked therwith. Which did so apparently revive & quicken ye decayed corne & other fruits, as was wonderfull to see, and made ye Indeans astonished to behold; and afterwards the Lord sent them shuch seasonable showers, with enterchange of faire warme weather, as, through his blessing, caused a fruitfull & liberall harvest, to their no small comforte and rejoycing. For which mercie (in time conveniente) they also sett aparte a day of thanksgiveing. This being overslipt in its place, I thought meet here to inserte ye same.…” 2

Poem, by William Bradford

From my years young in days of youth,
God did make known to me his truth,
And call’d me from my native place
For to enjoy the means of grace.
In wilderness he did me guide

 And in strange lands for me provide. . . .
Farewell, dear children, whom I love,
Your better Father is above:
When I am gone, he can supply;
To him I leave you when I did.
Fear him in truth, walk in his ways,
And he will bless you all your days,
My days are spent, old age is come,
My strength it failes, my glass near run,
Now I will wait, when work is done,
Until my happy change shall come,
When from my labors I shall rest,
With Christ above for to be blest.

Written by John Robinson, Pilgrim Pastor, 1620

That he who hath made the heavens and the earth,
the sea and all rivers of waters,
and whose providence is over all his works,
especially over all his dear children for good,
would so guide and guard you in your ways,
that we may have matter of
praising his name all the days of our lives.
John Robinson, Pilgrim Pastor, 1620

Pastor John Robinson

“Lastly, whereas you are become a body politic, using amongst yourselves civil government, and are not furnished with any persons of special eminencie above the rest, to be chosen by you into office of government, let your wisdom & godliness appear, not only in choosing such persons as do entirely love and promote the common good, but also in yielding unto them all due honour & obedience in their lawful administrations . . .”

Audio and Video for the Entire Family

Remembering the Pilgrims with Mrs. Ruth Smith

An Old-Time Thanksgiving with Mrs. Jeanette Whittaker 

Downloadable Coloring Page

Student Activity Page from Self-Government with Union

Resources for the Home, Church, and School

  • Read eighty-five pages from William Bradford’s  History of Plimoth Plantation in The Christian History of the Constitution: Christian Self-Government
  • Commemorating the 250th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s landing in America, Rev. H.M. Goodwin delivered two discourses onThe Pilgrim Fathers: A Glance at Their History, Character and Principles. He introduced his topic as follows: “I propose to speak of our obligation to the Pilgrim Fathers, and to show these by considering

I. Who the Pilgrims were, and what they did and suffered in this world, for the cause of God and humanity.

II. Their character, faith and polity, and the influence of these upon the character of the Nation.
III. The duty we owe to their memory and principles. . . .”
Read the complete discourses in Restoring America’s Heritage of Pastoral Leadership


  1. The Holy Bible: King James Version. (1995). (electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version., Ps 145:3–7)
  2.  Hall, V. M. (2006). The Christian history of the Constitution of the United States of America. Christian self-government (Founders Edition, Vol. 1, pp. 193). San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education.
  3.  The Mighty Works of God: Divine Providence, by Ruth J. Smith, page 64
    Quoted from New England’s Memorial, Nathaniel Morton