Thanksgiving and the Feast of Sukkot
by Christine Egbert
Anyone who has been in Hebrew Roots for a while has likely run across those (few) who claim Thanksgiving, like Christmas and Easter, is pagan. But in this article, I hope to prove that the first Thanksgiving in America was a type of Sukkot!
Question: So why would anyone think Thanksgiving is Pagan?
Answer: Because England’s “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.
I find it interesting that the Encyclopedia Britannica says it was also called the “Ingathering” (a term used for the Feast of Sukkot), and that it has been celebrated from antiquity. The English self-identify as being “British.” Why? I think it’s because in Hebrew “Brit” means covenant and “ish” means man. Keeping this in mind, let me ask you a question. What if this “ingathering” celebrated from antiquity by these covenant men began as the Feast of Sukkot? What if it then devolved over many generations into its pagan form, as it did under King Jeroboam? And what if the Pilgrims, who we already know from primary sources–letters, diaries, and legal documents–renounced Christmas and Easter, which they recognized as being pagan, chose this particular time of the year to gather together to give thanks to the Most High because they wanted to return to a biblically mandated celebration?
History documents that during the 4th and 5th centuries Celtic assemblies in Britain, under the teaching of great men of God like St. Patrick, the missionary to Ireland, and Columba, kept the 7th day Sabbath and the “Festivals of the Eternal” found in Leviticus 23, and ate biblically clean. (The Celtic Church in Britain by Leslie Hardinge/ Truth Triumphant by B.G. Wilkinson)
But before I continue with my hypothesis allow me to share some history that should be most interesting to those returning to the Hebraic roots of their faith, facts about a once popular historical figure named Christopher Columbus. The following passage is excerpted 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 included this following translated excerpt below from an obscure volume of Columbus’s Book of Prophecies that is 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 Columbus was himself a Jew. His survival depended upon suppression of that fact during Spain’s Inquisition. But Jewish bloodline or not, Columbus believed in Yeshua, as his journal entries show.
In their book, The Light and the Glory, the authors related the inspiring history of Columbus, which set the tone for the rest of their book, written in the late 1980s. It 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 later-generations break it, time and time again.
The authors of “the Light and the Glory” raise the question: What if God deals with whole nations the way he deals with individuals? After all, Israel was chosen to be a light to all nations. And Deuteronomy 7:6-9 says had they obeyed, they would have been mightily blessed. The problem was they didn’t remain faithful; they didn’t continue to keep their covenant. They committed evil in God’s eyes!
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, whose ancestors were expelled from Spain in 1492. For the ten years the Pilgrims spent there, they witnessed the celebration of that set-apart time called Sukkot. Pilgrim historian Caleb Johnson suggests that “the Pilgrims modeled a festive day on the biblical holiday of Sukkot.”
Like Sukkot, that first Thanksgiving in 1621 was eaten outdoors. And as our Jewish brothers traditionally welcome friends to join them in their Sukkah to share a meal, these Pilgrims invited the Wampanoag tribe to their first Thanksgiving table. History only records three days of feasting. But might it have lasted seven days plus one? I don’t know. History doesn’t say. But at that very first Thanksgiving they recited Psalms 106 and 107, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His kindness endures forever,” just as they do in the Jewish liturgy for Sukkot.
William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Colony studied the Hebrew Scriptures, and history recounts that the Pilgrims saw themselves as those “other vinedressers” to whom the vineyard was rented out, according to Matthew 21. And they saw the New World (right or wrong) as a type of Promised Land.
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 the University of Kentucky. I hope that as a part of this Hebrew Roots restoration, God’s last great move to restore all things before Yeshua returns (Acts 3:21), you will find this particular bit of history most gratifying. (I have changed the spelling on certain words in this Bradford quote to modern English to make it easier to read.)
“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 this 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 William Bradford, learning Hebrew was an act of filial respect. It was an act of devotion through which a son of the Church sought to honor his spiritual forefathers, “the Holy Patriarchs of old.” 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 reading Scriptures that were translated from the Greek and latin into English, Bradford wanted to read the originals in that “holy tongue” used to name things “at the Creation.”
As I have stated in many other articles, traditions are evil ONLY when they defy or elevate themselves above Scripture. When they don’t, traditions can enrich our lives. So now that you’ve glimpsed into the hearts and minds of those men and women who celebrated that very first American Thanksgiving, I hope you will go ahead and buy that turkey. Invite your family and friends. It is never the wrong time to thank the Most High. Then, while you’re all gathered at the table, why not take a page out of the history of that very first American Thanksgiving? Read aloud from Psalms 106 and 107! Let us return this all too often secularized American holiday (focused on football, parades, and gluttony) back to its original Puritan-form, to a time set aside to gather together with family and friends, and in gratitude let us reflect on God’s magnificent bounty.