On the fourth Thursday of November, families gather to share a sumptuous feast and count their blessings, recalling the time in 1621 when pilgrims and Native Americans came together in Plymouth Plantation to celebrate a bountiful harvest — the first Thanksgiving.
While the gratitude during that first feast was clearly directed to God, a local pastor questions whether that is still the case.
"If you're thankful on Thanksgiving Day, to whom are you thankful?" asks Jerry Waugh, senior pastor of Northcliffe Baptist Church. "Thanksgiving Day is not just about being thankful; it's about being thankful to God. Every blessing ultimately comes from God."
In a church newsletter, Waugh notes that in the first presidential Thanksgiving proclamation, issued by George Washington in 1789, it was decreed that the day "be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be."
According to an earlier Thanksgiving proclamation written by the governing council of Charleston, Mass., in 1676, a day was to be set aside "as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his goodness and favour ... that the Lord may behold us as a people offering praise and thereby glorifying Him."
For many Christian churches, the day is used as an opportunity to feed the hungry and provide food and fellowship for those who would otherwise be alone.
"Counting our blessings should always ignite an attitude of gratitude in us," Waugh said.
At Northcliffe, that translates into ongoing ministries, including the church's food kitchen. At Thanksgiving, the church distributes food baskets and, for the past five years, has been offering a free traditional meal to the community. This year's meal will be served at 11 a.m. Thanksgiving Day.
The church is at 10515 Northcliffe Blvd., Spring Hill. Donations of traditional dry food items for food baskets may be delivered to the church office between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays. Call (352) 683-5882 for a list. Monetary donations will help buy turkeys.
Pastor Earl Harrigan of New Beginnings Life Center Church said providing a Thanksgiving meal is a way to imitate Christ.
"The reason for this extension to our community is simply that it's our responsibility according to the mandates of Jesus Christ to do our part to touch our community and let them know that we care," Harrigan said.
New Beginnings' community dinner on the church grounds will begin at 4 p.m. Nov. 21 and is open to everyone. Monetary donations are welcome. The church is at 3350 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, Call (352) 686-8880 or (813) 380-5453.
Several other churches will offer free Thanksgiving meals:
• First Baptist Church of Spring Hill, 7279 Pinehurst Drive, will serve a meal beginning at 5 p.m. Nov. 23 The traditional meal is open to the whole community. Donations will be accepted.
• Love Your Neighbor will serve its Thanksgiving meal at the Jerome Brown Community Center, 306 Darby Lane, Brooksville, from 6 to 8 p.m. on both Nov. 23 and 30. The ministry will also partner with Men of Faith to serve a meal from 3 to 5 p.m. Nov. 24 at Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church, 200 Mount Fair Ave., Brooksville.
Donations of traditional food items and monetary donations are welcome. Call John Callea at (352) 428-9434 for updated information on what donations are needed. To volunteer, contact Lisa Callea at 428-9275.
• Christian Life Assembly of God, in partnership with JAM Ministries, will host a Community Thanksgiving Dinner from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 25 at the Jerome Brown Community Center, 306 Darby Lane, Brooksville. Preregistration is available at christian-life-assembly.com. Volunteers should also register online.
Donations of food and monetary donations are welcome. Food will also be delivered to shut-ins, and extra donated, uncooked food will be given away after the dinner. Call (352) 597-1139.
• Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 6193 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill, will provide a Thanksgiving Community Dinner from 2 to 6 p.m. Nov. 27. Volunteers are needed to cook, serve, set up and clean up. Contact Dave Koile at (352) 686-8327. The church number is (352) 683-9016.
• Grace World Outreach Church will host a community Thanksgiving dinner from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 27 at the church at 20366 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville. Those who would like to participate as a volunteer should contact Robin Cook at the church office at (352) 796-3685.
• For the 16th year, St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church will offer a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to the needy. It is expected that more than 1,000 dinners will be either delivered in the morning to shelters, shut-ins and the homeless or served in the church hall, beginning at 1:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
Monetary donations will help with purchases and may be dropped off at the church office at 5030 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill.
Those interested in attending or having a meal delivered should call (352) 238-2755 or (352) 238-3214 by Nov. 25.