Holidays: The First Thanksgiving

Sukka for Sukkot, a Jewish ThanksgivingWith Thanksgiving approaching, many of us grow nostalgic. Images of Thanksgivings past come to the forefront. Maybe we think of the Macy’s parade, of turkey dinner, or even sitting around with the men watching the Dallas Cowboys play the Washington Redskins. Maybe we had special times with family and loved ones. Time off from responsibility might have been key, like no school or work for four days!

The roots of Thanksgiving and its history are rich. People coming alongside one another to celebrate the harvest, because the harvest sustained life. For this, they were thankful.

But there is another celebration of thanks, of harvest, that goes way back thousands of years! In fact, this is a festival that was mandated by God and it happens to be one of the main celebrations on the Jewish calendar. And the Jews can keep a festival going for days!

It is the Feast of Booths. Some know it as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Ingathering. Always celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei on the Jewish calendar, the Feast of Booths falls between the end of September and the beginning of October. To those who participate, it is generally called “Sukkot”. Sukkot holds fast a richness of its own having double importance for some and even a triple significance for others.

Firstly, we look at the of Exodus 24. The Feast of Ingathering was mandated as a time of celebration at the end of the harvest. This significance is agricultural. While the temple was still standing, the Jews had to make pilgrimage to Israel. Today, to honor this time, thousands of Jews still make pilgrimage to Israel. Secondly, referring to Leviticus 23, the Feast of Tabernacles commemorates how dependent the Jews were to keeping the will of God. This significance is historical.

To some, the third significance of Sukkot is the most dear. The Feast of Ingathering symbolizes how, at the end of the harvest, God will gather His children together.

Sukkot is celebrated in outdoor shelters, succa, symbolizing the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness. Like Thanksgiving, Sukkot has special foods and icons. There is also music and dance. Lulav EtrogThe festival lasts for seven days in Israel and eight outside of Israel. On each day there is a waving ceremony involving four species.These fours species are hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows. Special prayers are involved and meals are eaten in the succa. Men are actually supposed to sleep in the succa, too!

Two icons of Sukkot are the lulav and the etrog. The lulav is a combination of the date branches, the myrtle from the hadar and the willow. These are tied together to make one branch. Being of Jewish design, these items must also be kosher. The lulav is held in one hand while the etrog, a citric fruit resembling a lemon, is held in the other.

Sukkot was a major time of celebration. People gathered at the Temple in Israel from all over. They slept in booths in the fields. Then the Temple was destroyed as well as this special celebration. Revived in the recent past centuries, what is celebrated today is on a small scale. Immediately following Sukkot is a one day celebration called Shemini Atzeret where people return inside their homes to eat. As far back as the 17th century, there is evidence of Christians observing this festival as well.


People giving thanks to God for the harvest and for sustenance is not simply a holiday related to modern history. It dates all the way back to the early days of Israel as a nation. In fact, something special to the holiday of Sukkot, Revelation 20 informs us we will all celebrate it during the Millenium! In America, we celebrate with special meals and icons on a specific day, just like the Jews celebrate Sukkot. What wonderful occasions set aside to honor God with thanks! I hope that is what we will do during this upcoming week as we prepare. What a wonderful time of year!

Written by Jori Sams

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Jori Sams is a Christian author and freelance writer with nearly 2000 published pieces on the Internet, with over 1500 being published by Yahoo. Her books are published through Writeious Books. When she isn’t writing, you can usually find her following the sun… 


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