Happy Thanksgiving to all. I hope your favorite team won!
Once again it is that time of year where our entire nation takes a day to render thanks. Have you ever stopped to think much about it? How fascinating it is, for to my knowledge, there is no other nation on earth that dedicates an entire day to the notion of showing gratefulness for our lives and blessings.
Many are familiar with Thanksgiving’s post-English colonist beginnings. It was first celebrated in Virginia on December 4, 1619 when Captain John Woodlief knelt in prayer and pledged “Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.” And again, as best can be determined, in October or November 1621, when William Bradford led the “Pilgrim” colonists in Massachusetts in a feast with the Wampanoag Indians. Since, the holiday has been celebrated many times and under many circumstances.
While the idea of gratefulness and thanksgiving is not uniquely American, and thank goodness for that, it is true that prominent American leaders have often authored eloquent and profound expressions of thanks. These often accompanied times of great trial, stress and challenge. An example was when, in the midst of the dark days of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress declared, on November 1 1777, that “it is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth 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 …”
Or later, on October 3, 1789, after the Constitution and Bill of Rights had both passed Congress, our first president George Washington proclaimed Thursday, the 26th day of November to be a national day of Thanksgiving. In 1790 Massachusetts Governor John Hancock issued his similar proclamation.
“Following President Washington’s initial proclamation of 1789, national Thanksgiving Proclamations occurred only sporadically (another by President Washington in 1795, one by John Adams in 1799, one by James Madison in 1814 and again in 1815, etc.)” many more official “Thanksgiving observances occurred at the state level. In fact, by 1815, the various state governments had issued at least 1,400 official prayer and thanksgiving proclamations.”
In 1863, in the midst of the War Between the States, President Lincoln made a proclamation which set a precedent for America's national day of Thanksgiving at a fixed annual date. The holiday we most closely know today as Thanksgiving had been recommended to Lincoln by Sarah Josepha Hale, a prominent magazine editor. Her letters to Lincoln urged him to have the "day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival."
Finally in 1941, after seeing the date moved up earlier by President Roosevelt, the date for Thanksgiving was officially set by Congress, fixed to be the fourth Thursday in November.
Interesting history, I hope you agree. But whatever the date, whatever the weather and whatever is happening in your world, even if made more difficult by today’s challenges, I hope this year you will take time to contemplate these proclamations of the past and celebrate all the things that you, and we, have to be grateful to God for.
For “what do we have that we have not received?” For those things I say … thanks!