How’s your Thanksgiving history? Here’s a refresher on the important dates in the history of our country.
As some accounts go, one day in the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims were preparing for a feast to celebrate the harvest. The men went out to shoot game for the meal, but when Wampanoag scouts heard the sound of gunfire, they were concerned that their new immigrant neighbors might be planning an attack.
Chief Massasoit and 90 of his men visited the Pilgrim encampment, and found out that they were simply hunting in preparation for the feast. The chief ordered his men to pitch in with some of their own game, and for three days, the Pilgrims and Wampanog feasted on deer, shellfish, corn, and other roasted meat. What? No turkey, stuffing, or cranberries?
Of course, the Pilgrims being the Pilgrims certainly must have given thanks to God for the provision, but the first recorded instance of a “Thanksgiving” meal was two years later, when the Pilgrims thanked Him for ending a two-month-long drought.
Fast forward 166 years and the land is officially the United States of America. On October 3, 1789, newly-appointed President George Washington signed a resolution of Congress recognizing Thursday, November 26 to be a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” to the Almighty, not just for food, but for the blessings of a government that respects the individual and his freedoms as being from God. Here is the text of the proclamation.
By the President of the United States of America, a 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 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 which we experienced 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 hath 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 shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord — To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease 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 third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
The next few presidents issued similar proclamations until 1815, then silence. And then, 75 years to the day after Washington’s initial document, President Abraham Lincoln reinstituted the day in 1863 after two years of Civil War. With that proclamation, people were not just encouraged to spend a day of Thanksgiving, but it became an official national holiday. Here’s the text.
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
And so, from that day until now, Thanksgiving has been celebrated as an official holiday on the last Thursday of November. Well, that is, except for the years of “Franksgiving,” from 1939-1941. On the tail end of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt felt that moving Thanksgiving back to the third week of November would spur Christmas shopping and, thus, the economy. (And you thought Black Friday was a recent invention.)
After years of pressure from Congress, Roosevelt made Thanksgiving officially the fourth week of November in 1942.
So there you have it. The history of Thanksgiving.
But there are some older proclamations you might want to use yourself this Thanksgiving day. Below are some Scripture verses of thanksgiving to God. Consider dividing these verses among the people at your dinner table, having each person read one, then closing with your own prayer of thanksgiving.
1 Chronicles 16:8 – Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples.
1 Chronicles 16:34 – O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Psalm 28:7 – The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him.
Psalm 34:1 – I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
Psalm 69:30 – I will praise the name of God with song, And shall magnify Him with thanksgiving.
Psalm 95:1-6 – O Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God, And a great King above all gods, In whose hand are the depths of the earth; The peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for it was He who made it; And His hands formed the dry land. Come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
Psalm 100:4 – Enter His gates with thanksgiving, And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him; bless His name.
Psalm 107:29-32 – He caused the storm to be still, So that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet; So He guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! Let them extol Him also in the congregation of the people, And praise Him at the seat of the elders.
Jonah 2:9 – But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay Salvation is from the LORD.”
Colossians 2:6-7 – Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.
Colossians 3:15 – And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.
1 Timothy 4:4-5 – For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 – In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.