What is the origin of America's annual Thanksgiving Day?
Pilgrims left Plymouth, England, on September 6, 1620. Their
destination? The New World. Although filled with uncertainty and peril,
it offered both civil and religious liberty. For over two months, the
102 passengers braved the harsh elements of a vast storm-tossed sea.
Finally, with firm purpose and a reliance on Divine Providence, the cry
of "land!" was heard.
in Massachusetts in lake November, the Pilgrims sought a suitable
landing place. On December 11, just before disembarking at Plymouth
Rock, they signed the "Mayflower Compact" - America's first document of
civil government and the first to introduce self-government.
1789, following a proclamation issued by President George Washington,
America celebrated its first Day of Thanksgiving to God under its new
constitution. That same year, the Protestant Episcopal Church, of which
President Washington was a member, announced that the first Thursday in
November would become its regular day for giving thanks, "unless another
day be appointed by the civil authorities." Yet, despite these early
national proclamations, official Thanksgiving observances usually
occurred only at the state level.
of the credit for the adoption of a later ANNUAL national Thanksgiving
Day may be attributed to Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey's
Lady's Book. For thirty years she promoted the idea of a national
Thanksgiving Day, contacting President after President until President
Abraham Lincoln responded in 1864 by setting aside the last Thursday of
November as a national Day of Thanksgiving. Over the next seventy-five
years, Presidents followed Lincoln's precedent, annually declaring a
national Thanksgiving Day. Then, in 1941, Congress permanently
established the fourth Thursday of each November as a national holiday.
original 1862 Thanksgiving Proclamation came - spiritually speaking -
at a pivotal point in his life. During the first week of July of that
year, the Battle of Gettysburg occurred, resulting in the loss of some
60,000 American lives. Four months later in November, Lincoln delivered
his famous "Gettysburg Address." It was while Lincoln was walking among
the thousands of graves there at Gettysburg that he committed his life
to Christ. As he explained to a friend:
I left Springfield [to assume the Presidency] I asked the people to
pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest
trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg
and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there
consecrated myself to Christ.
Americans celebrate Thanksgiving each year, we hope they will retain
the original gratefulness to God displayed by the Pilgrims and many
other founding fathers, and remember that it is to those early and
courageous Pilgrims that they own not only the traditional Thanksgiving
holiday but also the concepts of self-government, that "hard-work"
eithic, self-reliant communities, and devout religious faith.
the holiday of Thanksgiving was proclaimed by the United States
Congress in 1782, they had this to say in their proclamation: "It being
the indispensable duty of all nations, not only to offer their
supplications to ALMIGHTY GOD, the giver of all good … but also in a
solemn and public manor to give him praise for his goodness in
general…Therefore the United States in Congress assembled, taking into
their consideration the many instances of divine goodness to these
States … do hereby recommend to the inhabitants of these States in
general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their
authority in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the
twenty-eight of NOVEMBER next, as a day of solemn THANKSGIVING of GOD
for all his mercies … to testify to their gratitude to GOD for his
goodness, by a cheerful obedience to his laws, and by promoting, each in
his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled
religion, which is the foundation of public prosperity and national