What do you know about Thanksgiving? Yes, there will be turkey, traditional parades and football games - but how much do you really know about the celebration of Thanksgiving in America and why it is celebrated? Tragically, our nation is changing moved by the current trends in media and neo paganism. Here is a brief snap shot of some historical anchors for Thanksgiving that are frequently lost to us. The purpose of this post is to give you a brief walk through history that will prompt you to continue the wonderful tradition of true Thanksgiving, but focus on our great God!
William Bradford - Plymouth Colony
William Bradford left England after living in Holland for 13 years with this group of separatists who called themselves Pilgrims landed on what is now the shores of Cape Cod with a total of 103. Landing on November 11,1620 after a 66 day grueling sea journey aboard the Mayflower they land in a barren land without shelter, additional food or provisions. They had intended to land in Virginia but blew off course landing in the harsh winter area of Massachusetts. After a month they move across the bay to what is now Plymouth Bay most of them staying aboard the ship because it was the safest location where they could hopefully survive the winter.
After the winter 51 people died of either starvation and/or exposure, William Bradford's wife being one of the victims. In March, they moved off the boat to shore and began to make shelters and homes. An English-speaking Abenaki Indian came to them and the next day he brought another English-speaking Indian named Squanto. Squanto taught them how to forage for food,plant and harvest corn, catch fish from streams and a number of other things.
By the late fall of 1621, according to Edward Winslow's account the Pilgrims celebrated their first Thanksgiving after Bradford issued a decree instructing people to gather for the great celebration. Some went hunting for fowl for all to eat. Preparing for a great feast, the pilgrims and some ninety indians including King Massasoit feasted for 3 days. Massasoit instructed his indians to hunt and they brought five deer to the pilgrims to use for their storehouse.
On November 29, 1623, three years after landing and two after the first Thanksgiving, William Bradford issued a proclamation of Thanksgiving.
To all ye Pilgrims:
In as much as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetable, and has made the forest to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and in as much as he has protected us from the ravages of savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience; now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November ye 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.
William Bradford, Ye Governor of Ye Colony
Continental Congress - November 1, 1777
On this date the they issued The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving to all colonies. Beginning in September of 1777, the Continental Congress met in York, Pennsylvania. Samuel Adams is credited as the author of the proclamation that was affirmed by the delegates to the Continental Congress. The declaration was crafted because of the military victory at Saratoga, New York.
"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 further blessing as they stand in need of; and it having pleased Him in His abundant mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable prosecution of a just and necessary war for the defense and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties....
It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth day of December next, for the solemn thanksgiving and praise:
That with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feeling of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgements and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favour, 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 human blessings, independence and peace;
That it may please Him, to prosper the trade and manufacturers of the people, and the labour of the husbandman, that our land may yet yield its increase; to take school 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 consiseth "in righteous, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."
An it is furthter recommended, that servile labour, and such recreation, as though at other times innocent, may be unbecoming the purpose of this appointment, be omitted on so solemn an occasion.
George Washington - October 3, 1789
On September 25, 1789, both houses of Congress of the United States unanimously approved a resolution asking George Washington to proclaim a National Day of Thanksgiving. Washington is known to be a man devoted to prayer and it is documented that he practiced praying throughout the Revolution and his terms in office as President. George Washington followed the recommendation of Congress by issuing the following proclamation;
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....
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the twenty sixth day of November next to be devoted by the people of these United States...
that we then may all unite 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 enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty which we are blessed... 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 promote the knowledge and practice of the true religion and virtue...
Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3rd of October A.D. 1789
Abraham Lincoln - October 3, 1863
"I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States .... 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.... it is announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord... It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people."
1863 was a particularly challenging year during the peak of the Civil War. The battle of Gettysburg had taken a great toll on the nation but it turned out to be a significant victory for the Union. A Thanksgiving proclamation had not been issued by a President since 1815, but Lincoln recognizing the significance of the victory and preservation of the union issues the following proclamation.
Finally on December 26, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt along with Congress pass a law making the fourth Thursday in November an official national holiday of Thanksgiving. The day we know as Thanksgiving has a deep heritage. A heritage of recognizing that God is the source of our bounty. Never forget, these rich traditions and be sure to pass along these historic landmarks on to your children and grandchildren.