THANKSGIVING DAY HISTORY
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.
The Thanksgiving Day holiday
is one of the grandest celebrations since the founding of this country.
It is one of the special holidays set aside each year for which we give
thanks for our religious freedom in the United States.
This special day was originally founded
in this great country as a harvest festival that was held by the Pilgrims
of Plymouth colony in 1621. The Pilgrims had landed on shore from the
Mayflower on Dec 21, 1620. Only about half the original men and women
survived the first dreadful winter. Food reserves were not to be had.
However, following this frightful winter,
spring plantings were made and the harvest was good. Twenty acres of
Indian corn, from which the Indians had furnished seed, was harvested.
Barley and meat were plentiful. Governor William Bradford sent four
men to hunt for fowl; they returned with enough waterfowl and wild turkeys
to last for a week.
Fishermen supplied cod and bass. The friendly Indians contributed five
deer. Ninety Indians, along with their chief, Massasoit, feasted with
the colonists for three days.
This grand feast must have occurred before
December 11, 1621, for it was detailed in a letter written on this date
by Edward Winslow, describing the ceremonious occasion. (Members of
the Berkeley plantation near present-day Charles City, Va., on December
4, 1619 offered an earlier Thanksgiving in prayer alone.)
Records do not show that this particular
feast was called "thanksgiving." It was a practice the first
two years of this ceremony for the Puritans to appoint a given day for
the feast. Not until two years later, in 1623, was a day given when
the Pilgrims set apart a day of Thanksgiving for rain that ended a severe
Thanksgiving days following harvests later
came to be celebrated throughout the New England colonies, but on different
and varying dates. The tradition was kept alive by proclamations of
Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of a woman's
magazine called "Godey's Lady's Book," was instrumental in
getting a national holiday called Thanksgiving Day. She began her crusade
in 1846, and yearly she wrote editorials, sent letters to the presidents
and governors, and to other distinguished individuals.
She chose as the date the last Thursday
in November because it was on November 26, 1789, that George Washington
had proclaimed a National Thanksgiving Day in honor of the new United
Sarah Hale finally secured the endorsement
of President Abraham Lincoln. On October 3, 1863, during the Civil War,
President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated
on Thursday, November 26, of that year, and also named the last Thursday
of November as the day to be observed every year.
After the Revolution the tradition of
Thanksgiving extended from New England to the Middle States. It next
progressed to the West, but developed more slowly in the South.
All the presidents following Washington
did not implement Thanksgiving days. Jefferson refused such a proclamation
stating the president had no authority to designate any religious undertaking.
James Madison, Jefferson's successor, held the same perspective and
only issued proclamations setting apart days for religious worship during
the war with England, and then only after Congress had requested this
Washington, in his eighth year as president,
issued two proclamations, while John Adams, in his four years issued
two. Madison, in his eight years, issued four. After Madison, such proclamations
were few, and perhaps none until the Civil War.
Lincoln and every president that followed
him proclaimed the holiday each year. However, President Franklin D.
Roosevelt thought Thanksgiving Day fell too close to Christmas. He proclaimed,
in 1939, the third Thursday as Thanksgiving Day.
Compliance was not widespread in all states.
And so, in December 1941, a joint resolution of Congress designated
the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving Day in Canada is celebrated
the second Monday in October, it being officially recognized in 1879.
It was first observed at Port Royal, Nova Scotia, in 1710, when the
town and fort passed into English hands for the last time.
Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Laos, Liberia, Puerto Rico, Guam,
Grenada, and the Virgin Islands all celebrate a day of Thanksgiving.
In America Thanksgiving Day has been transformed
from a Holy Day to a holiday. Rather than giving thanks for our many
blessings, a grand feast is the subject of the day. The family reunions
and the meal have taken preference over the Thanksgiving sermon.