It seems to me that Thanksgiving is a holiday that just kinda created itself, that is, it hasn’t come about to celebrate some event as do the Fourth of July, Christmas, Veterans Day, Easter, or New Years holidays. Nope, it started as a spontaneous celebration – folks just felt it appropriate to give thanks for the blessings they had received.
This concept has been part of our country’s heritage starting with the earliest documented thanksgiving services being conducted by Spanish and French explorers and settlers in the 1500’s. As early as 1610 settlers of Jamestown, Virginia, proclaimed , “ … in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”. Different language, different locations, but the same basic belief in giving thanks. As most everyone knows we commonly hold the Thanksgiving celebration held in 1621 in Plymouth, New England where settlers held a three day feast after a successful growing season as the “first” Thanksgiving in this country. According to James Baker, a noted historian, “ It included 50 persons who were on the Mayflower (all who remained of the 100 who had landed) and 90 Native Americans.” And, yes, the menu did include turkey provided by the settlers as well as venison furnished by the Native Americans.
Celebrations of Thanksgiving continued kinda sporadically in various communities with the first national proclamation of Thanksgiving being issued by the Continental Congress in 1777 – during the Revolutionary War. This was followed in 1782 when the legislative body governing the United States at the time issued the following proclamation, “[We] do hereby recommend it to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe and request the several states to interpose their authority, in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the TWENTY-EIGHTH DAY OF NOVEMBER next as a day of SOLEMN THANKSGIVING to GOD for all His mercies …”. [Emphasis in the original.]
President George Washington , on October 3, 1789, created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America by recommending, “… to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”Celebration of Thanksgiving continued even in the midst of the Civil War as President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863.
Since then Thanksgiving has been observed annually in the United States on a Thursday in November. See what I mean about how Thanksgiving kinda created itself over a span of many years – and didja notice that the holiday has been celebrated on a Thursday since colonial times? The various sources I’ve used in putting this commentary together haven’t revealed any reference to explain why Thursday has been selected. Go figure. In December 1941 Congress passed a bill which was signed by President Roosevelt establishing the fourth Thursday in November, not the last Thursday, as our official federal Thanksgiving Day holiday. This act resolved the conflict over which Thursday in November Thanksgiving should be celebrated.
Well, the tradition of giving thanks to God on Thanksgiving Day continues today in many forms including religious services and both family-oriented and community-wide feasts of familiar staples such as turkey and pumpkin pie. We also have added other secular celebrations such as spectacular parades in large cities. The Detroit Lions professional football team hosted a game on Thanksgiving Day from 1934 to 1938 and each year since 1945. Then, too, the traditional football game between the Ohio State University and “that school up north” is played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Yep, when you get right down to it, Thanksgiving is a holiday that just kinda created itself. Beginning with the earliest settlers, folks in this country have felt the need to set aside a time for giving thanks with a holiday that includes recognition of the source of the many blessings we enjoy year round – a beneficent and loving God. And that’s what Thanksgiving is all about. At least that’s how it seems to me.