I went to a public school in the 70s. We didn’t pray as a class; prayer had been abolished from the schools more than a decade earlier, and I don’t remember learning about God in school. But there were a few truths that were imparted amid our mandatorily secular coursework. One of these truths regarded the godly origin of Thanksgiving – a truth I hold dear and celebrate vigorously!
We learned that Thanksgiving in the U.S. evolved from a blend of European and Native American traditions, a time-honored celebration of the harvest, thanking God for his bounty. Although there are accounts of North American harvest events dating back to the mid-1500s, it was 1621, the year the Pilgrims and Indians broke bread together at Plymouth (in present-day Massachusetts) that we were taught as being “The First Thanksgiving.” After a challenging and traumatic year of survival, the Pilgrims wanted to “give thanks” to God for his grace, peace, and bounty, and to their Indian friends for their life-saving help.
We were taught that the meal of choice was one that reflected the harvest, rich with vegetables, fruits, grains, fish, venison, waterfowl, and our modern staple, turkey (since there was an abundance of wild turkeys available). What a sight it must have been to see Pilgrim and Indian, side by side, happily, hungrily, and thankfully enjoying God’s bounty! And what a bond that must have helped to solidify, since breaking bread together and the bond it creates is Biblical, going back to the Last Supper.
And in 1789, when President George Washington officially proclaimed Thanksgiving to be a national holiday, celebrated on Thursday November 26, 1789, the US celebrated its first Thanksgiving under its new Constitution. Seventy-four years later, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday of November to be our nation’s annual Thanksgiving celebration date. Both men beautifully defined the value and importance of Thanksgiving to us as individuals, to our families, and to our nation. Please take a few minutes to read and reflect upon their inspired proclamations, and notice that both of these men were ruling our nation at times of tremendous upheaval, yet both knew the importance of thanking God for everything at all times.
This Thanksgiving let us all remember to sincerely thank God for his grace, love, and bounty – and even for the challenges, which help us to grow as individuals and in our faith, trust, and love in and for God.
GEORGE WASHINGTON’S PROCLAMATION OF THANKSGIVING
Whereas 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; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to 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; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S PROCLAMATION OF THANKSGIVING
The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful years 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 field 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 of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than theretofore. 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 at sea and those who are sojourning 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 interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, 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.