The History of Thanksgiving

628 words | 3 page(s)

Thanksgiving is the holiday set aside for all Americans to celebrate their blessings. This holiday has a rich and storied history that affects everything from how the holiday came to be a holiday to how it is celebrated today. It has its roots firmly planted in the beginning of American history and counts the Bible among its many influences. Thanksgiving is much more than a day set aside to enjoy parades and watch football games; it is a day for realizing and giving thanks for the many blessings that each one of us receives every day throughout the year.

When the first settlers in America celebrated the first Thanksgiving, little did they know that it would become a national holiday. Native Americans, including the Wampanoag tribe encountered by the Pilgrims, have always had a tradition of giving thanks for their blessings including the birth of children, bountiful harvests, etc. (Thanksgiving). In fact, people throughout the world since ancient times have celebrated and rejoiced for what they received (Thanksgiving). In 1621, the Pilgrims had just endured one full year in the New World (Thanksgiving). The Indians helped the Pilgrims survive that first winter (Foldvary). The Pilgrims had lost half of their population to sickness and disease, but had come through the year with a bountiful harvest (Thanksgiving). In keeping with the tradition of giving thanks, the Pilgrims celebrated a day of “feasting and sport” and giving thanks to God (Thanksgiving). It was not a Thanksgiving Day celebration per se, but rather a “three day feast” and a “hunting party with Indians (Foldvary). No Thanksgiving Day proclamation is found in any historical records for 1621 (Fodvary). The first Thanksgiving Day, proclaimed by Governor William Bradford was November 29, 1623 (Foldvary).

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Thanksgiving as we know it today is a national holiday. The Pilgrims began what we now know as Thanksgiving by blending “the New England custom of rejoicing after a successful harvest, based on ancient English harvest festivals; and the Puritan Thanksgiving, a solemn religious observance combining prayer and feasting” (Thanksgiving). It was not until 1777 that Thanksgiving became a national holiday as proclaimed by the Continental Congress (Thanksgiving). In 1789, the Protestant Episcopal Church which included august members such as George Washington, proclaimed that the first Thursday in Novemeber would be its Day of Thanksgiving to God (What). By 1815 the custom of celebrating Thanksgiving fell out of fashion, although each state celebrated of its own accord (Thanksgiving). In 1833, Sarah Josepha Hale, began a campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday (Thanksgiving).

It was not until 1863 that her efforts were finally realized when she convinced Abraham Lincoln that by making Thanksgiving a national holiday the wounds caused by the Civil War could begin to heal (Thanksgiving). In his original Thanksgiving Proclamation, Lincoln was at a pivotal point in his life both spiritually and mentally (What). He was four months away from delivering his famous Gettysburg Address, and had just committed his life to Christ (What). Lincoln proclaimed that two Thanksgivings would be celebrated that year: one on August 6 for the victory at Gettysburg, and the other would be celebrated the last Thursday in November (Thanksgiving). Each year after that, the president would proclaim the national Thanksgiving holiday (Thanksgiving). It was in 1941 that Congress established that the last Thursday in November would be a national holiday for Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving).

Thanksgiving Day is the day when traditions are borne out year after year. Americans settle in front of the television to watch football, gather around the table to eat with family and friends, and gorge themselves on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. The roots of this holiday run deep and remind people of what it means to be truly grateful for bountiful blessings.

  • Foldvary, Fred E. “Thanksgiving Day-The True History.” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 June 2014.
  • “Thanksgiving History.” Plimoth Plantation |. Plimouth Plantation, n.d. Web. 29 June 2014.

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