A History of Thanksgiving

  • Do you know when Thanksgiving became a holiday in America?
    • That was a trick question.
    • What we know as the first Thanksgiving was in 1621 when the early pilgrims in America celebrated finally having an abundant harvest along with Native Americans who had helped them along the way.
    • In October of 1777 all thirteen of the original American colonies celebrated a Thanksgiving feast.
    • George Washington had a day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November of 1789 as a day of prayer and thanksgiving.
    • In 1863 Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as an annual, national holiday, setting it on the last Thursday of November, like Washington.
    • In 1939 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt changed the date of Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in the month. That year the last Thursday was on the last day of the month. Businesses wanted more shopping days before Christmas. That year everything was confused. Some states celebrated the original Thanksgiving, some the new Thanksgiving, some both. School calendars were wrong, football schedules were off. Families had off on different days and couldn’t celebrate together. In 1941 Congress passed into law that the fourth Thursday of November be declared Thanksgiving.
  • I thought it would be neat to read a historical document. I’ve included Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation, establishing the holiday of Thanksgiving. America was in the middle of the Civil War, when southern states had withdrawn from the United States. The North was fighting to put America back together. The South was fighting to keep the North from changing its way of life. Slavery was legal in the South and brought in a lot of money for the South. Abraham Lincoln also wrote a proclamation declaring slaves free the same year he wrote this proclamation establishing Thanksgiving. It is a smart thing to give thanks in the midst of adversity.

“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 3d day of October, A.D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln”