11 December, 1620: 102 pilgrims disembarked the Mayflower at Plymouth rock after a rough and tempestuous sea journey of more than two months (66 days). Originally aiming for northern Virginia, they were blown off course by winds. That first winter, about 45 pilgrims died due to extreme cold. In the spring of 1621, led by Squanto, native Americans taught the pilgrims to grow corn, beans and pumpkins, which helped all of them survive. In the autumn of 1621, they invited their Indian friends and held a grand celebration to thank God for his favors. This communal dinner is popularly known as “The First Thanksgiving.” There is no evidence to prove if the customary turkey was a part of the initial feast. According to the firsthand account written by the leader of the colony, the food included, ducks, geese, venison, fish, berries etc.
During the 1600 and 1700’s, it was common practice for individual colonies to observe days of thanksgiving throughout each year. These were days set aside for prayer and fasting, not a day marked by plentiful food and drink as is today's custom. Later in the 18th century each of the states periodically would designate a day of thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, an adoption of a state constitution or an exceptionally bountiful crop.
October 1777: All thirteen colonies joined in a communal thanks-giving celebration commemorating the surrender of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga.
3 October 1789: The first historic proclamation was issued by President George Washington, declaring November 26 as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer give gratitude to God. Here is the 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; 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 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 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 show 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 3rd day of October, A.D. 1789.
(signed) G. Washington
3 October, 1863: President Abraham Lincoln issued a fresh proclamation calling for the observance of the fourth Tuesday of November as a national holiday. In 1939, during the great depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday of November to extend the Christmas shopping season and boost the economy. After a storm of protest, in 1941 Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November, where it stands today.
It's interesting to note that most of the triggers behind our Thanksgiving Day history involve not times of great plenty and blessing, but times of great want and trials. Perhaps as human beings we take the good times for granted; because it seems to be the bad times that bring our true gratitude to the surface. We may need to have tough stuff in our lives in order to truly appreciate all of the people and circumstances for which we should truly be thankful to God and others.
Jacques Maritain said, "Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy," and 'thanksgiving' itself is a word of action. To make the most of this Thanksgiving, as you celebrate with family and friends, as you brave the shopping hordes, as you eat to overflow and watch football, as you travel to see your favorite people, or as you simply rest and renew, be thankful and find ways to turn your gratitude into actions that benefit others.
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