Ever wonder where our Thanksgiving holiday came from? I know that many folks know the history behind this special day we celebrate each year. As children, we learn these things in the home or in school or in church, or a combination of those. What I want to present is a brief history of Thanksgiving.
In The Beginning
December 4, 1619 – English settlers arrived in Jamestown in the Virginia Colony. A part of their charter required that a “day of thanksgiving” be observed every year on the day of their arrival. This colony was abandoned several years later.
In 1621, the people of the Plymouth colony celebrated a Harvest Festival along with the people of one of the tribes of the Wampanoag Nation. Their feast included wild turkey, various water fowl, deer, corn and other vegetables which the Native Americans taught the colonists how to cultivate and grow.
From 1630 through 1777, There were days of Thanksgiving which were observed by the colonies, but each had their own days of celebrating Thanksgiving.
November 1, 1777 – The Continental Congress issued a National Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. Here is the proclamation:
“Saturday, November 1, 1777
The committee appointed to prepare a recommendation to the several states, to set apart a day of public thanksgiving, brought in a report; which was taken into consideration, and agreed to as follows:
Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such farther blessings as they stand in need of; and it having pleased him in his abundant mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of his common providence, but also smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defense and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a measure to prosper the means used for the support of our troops and to crown our arms with most signal success: It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the 18th day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please him graciously to afford his blessings on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all blessings, independence and peace; that it may please him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labor of the husbandman, that our land may yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under his nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.
And it is further recommended, that servile labor, and such recreation as, though at other times innocent, may be unbecoming the purpose of this appointment, be omitted on so solemn an occasion.”
It wasn’t until October 3, 1863 that Thanksgiving had become a national holiday with the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln. In the proclamation, President Lincoln set aside the last Thursday of month of November as a “Day of Thanksgiving and Praise”.
Thanksgiving is more than just the traditional turkey dinner. Its a time when we give thanks to our heavenly father for all of the blessings given to us. You might say that blessings haven’t come my way, or, what have I been blessed with. When I was raising my family, the bottom dropped out of my world. I found myself homeless with my wife and kids. We were living in the car and grabbing a shower where ever we could. Thanksgiving rolled around in that bleak period of my history, and I found myself celebrating with my wife and children in a rescue mission. During the sermon given by the pastor and head of the rescue mission, my heart and eyes were opened to the many blessings I had the time. I had a loving family and although we were homeless we were a family, and we were healthy. We were celebrating with others who found themselves in similar circumstances. We had the love of a wonderful pastor and his wife who gave of themselves unconditionally. We were safe and truly cared about. There were truly too many blessings to count, though it may sound odd given the circumstances. In time, I managed to improve my fortunes. I was better able to provide for my family and started to embark on a new journey. As a family, we gave back to those who helped us in our need. The point is, blessings come in many ways. Its up to us to recognize those blessings and be thankful for them.
In a conversation recently with my daughter who has turned into a lovely caring woman with a family of her own, we were talking about Thanksgiving and our individual plans. As we live in difference states, its often a challenge to be together for this or that holiday. Anyway, she is celebrating with her brother at his house. Then she asked me something I never thought she would. She asked, “why do we only celebrate Thanksgiving one day a year? Didn’t you teach us to give thanks daily for all of our blessings?” She of course knows the history behind this holiday but she was asking a broader question. My daughter has turned out to be quite a deep thinker and I am so proud of her.
She learned well. I did in fact teach all of my kids that we should be thankful daily for all of the blessing the Lord has given us. Blessings can come in many forms, a caring pastor, a smile from a 3 year old you see in the store. Or maybe its so many different things for so many different people. The lesson, for me at least, is that I have been blessed with love, respect, and a beautiful family. Money, house, cars aside, my family is one the best blessings I’ve been given in this life.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.