This week we celebrate a uniquely American holiday – Thanksgiving.
While thanksgiving celebrations occurred in North America as early as 1541, our current celebration is generally modeled after the one at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. The Pilgrims, having survived their first winter (during which about half of them died), invited their local Indian friends to join with them in several days of religious activities, feasting, and athletic competition.
Thanksgiving became a festival celebrated annually across New England but did not spread to all the colonies until the American Revolution, when the Continental Congress called for official days of thanksgiving and prayer.
The first federal Thanksgiving proclamation was issued by President George Washington in 1789. Why would he issue that proclamation? He explained:
It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.
Over the next 80 years, national thanksgiving celebrations occurred only sporadically, although they were still celebrated annually across New England.
Beginning in the 1840s, Sarah Hale, a mother of five children and an editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book persistently campaigned for an established national Thanksgiving – such as in this editorial from 1852:
The American people have two peculiar festivals, each connected with their history, and therefore of great importance in giving power and distinctness to their nationality. The Fourth of July Is the exponent of independence and civil freedom. Thanksgiving Day is the national pledge of Christian faith in God, acknowledging him as the dispenser of blessings. These two festivals should be joyfully and universally observed throughout our whole country, and thus incorporated in our habits of thought as inseparable from American life.
She faithfully contacted various presidents with that request. Finally, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a national Thanksgiving proclamation in response to her letter to him.
Subsequent presidents followed Lincoln’s example in setting aside a day of Thanksgiving, but it was not until 1941 that Congress passed a law establishing Thanksgiving as an official national holiday to be celebrated every year on the Fourth Thursday in November.
As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year with your family and friends, take time to reflect on all the reasons you have to be truly thankful – take time to thank God and specifically recall to Him some of His many blessings on us. You might even outline your prayer to Him by the four items George Washington mentioned in America’s original federal Thanksgiving proclamation:
You can also share with others the history of and the reason for this great holiday. There are several resources on our website that you might find helpful:
Acknowledge the providence of Almighty God;
Obey His will;
Be grateful for His benefits; and
Humbly implore His protection and favor.
From all of us at WallBuilders, we wish you and your family a very blessed and happy Thanksgiving!
See Thanksgiving Proclamations issued by the Continental Congress in 1777, 1781, 1782, and many other historic proclamations.
Learn more about the history of this holiday. (Search our website for more articles, including Celebrating Thanksgiving in America.)
Read the 1795 Thanksgiving Sermon by the Rev. Thomas Baldwin in response to George Washington’s call for a Day of Thanksgiving.