The first Thanksgiving celebration held in America occurred in 1619. On December fourth of that year, thirty-eight English settlers arrived at the Berkeley Plantation in Virginia. Part of their original charter stated that they would set aside that day every year and observe it as a day of Thanksgiving. But the next year, 1620, those first settlers in the Americas forgot to celebrate. Within a few years, it is believed they were absorbed into the Native American tribes around them for survival.
Also in 1620, the Mayflower Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. The following year, 1621, Plymouth, Massachusetts, saw the most famous Thanksgiving celebration; the one we commemorate these days. During their first winter in the “New World,” nearly half of those who came to this country on the Mayflower died. In compassion for these settlers, the peaceful Massasoit Indian tribes in the Plymouth area, not only brought food during the winter, but also offered help and instruction when it came time to plant spring crops. As a result of the native Americans and the settlers working together, a bountiful harvest was enjoyed by those in the Plymouth settlement. To celebrate, the Pilgrims decided to hold a feast for celebration and thanksgiving. This ‘festival’, which lasted three days, included the participation of nearly one hundred Native Americans. Governor William Bradford invited the natives to show them appreciation, for helping his colony survive through the harsh weather conditions.
The next ‘thanksgiving’ celebration did not occur until 1623. That year, the Pilgrims were once again subjected to a great natural hardship, a drought. In the hope of bringing much needed rain, they gathered together in a prayer service, to “seek the face of the Almighty for rain.” In answer to their prayers, within twelve hours, mercy drops from formerly non-existent clouds began to fall. The rain was a gentle and steady one, continuing for several days. When it became apparent that the crops (and the colonists) would survive, Governor Bradford declared that the Plymouth settlement would hold another day of thanksgiving. He once again invited their friends, the “Indians.”
As other settlers joined the Plymouth pilgrims, it is noted in historical documents that other thanksgiving celebrations were held, each independently of the other.
In 1668 the Plymouth General Court declared November 25th to be Thanksgiving Day. The concept didn’t appear to be a national celebration, until 1777, when the first national celebration of Thanksgiving occurred as a way to celebrate the American defeat of the British at Saratoga.
Two years later, saw the United States as a fledgling nation, with a president and governing body, known as Congress. It was 1789, and the country’s first president, George Washington, made his very first Presidential proclamation. He declared Thanksgiving to be a national event, to be celebrated on November 26 each year. This custom was followed until the next president, a federalist named Thomas Jefferson, did away with the holiday. “We do not need a national holiday to recognize God as the Source of all Blessings,” he said.
For the following sixty years, our nation had no official day to recognize blessings and give thanks to God. It is interesting to note that during that time, our country became deeply enmeshed in the slave trade, and a civil war broke out between the northern and southern states… in the absence of giving thanks…..
Then, in the midst of the Civil War, in 1863, a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale expressed her concern to the sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln; requesting the nation needed to set aside a day to “give thanks unto Him from whom all blessings flow.” On October 3 of that year, President Lincoln set the day as a national holiday to be celebrated each year.
Interestingly enough, the Confederate armies had been victorious in the civil war until that point. In fact, the final confederate victory in the war was seen in the Battle of Chickamauga Creek in Tennessee. In mid-October of 1863, that began to change. By the end of November of 1863, generals Grant and Sherman had seen a victory at Chattanooga, and were moving towards Atlanta.
Slavery was on its way out.
Did the shift in the war’s direction have something to do with the Thanksgiving proclamation? Many in that day believed so. Lincoln’s decision was seen as an invitation to “allow God into the affairs of men.”
The day was loosely considered a national day of remembrance, until 1941 — when Congress declared the fourth Thursday of November each year to be a national and legal holiday…. interestingly enough, the same year we began to fight once again for our very survival as a nation.
There are lessons to be learned from history. There are lessons to be learned everywhere. What would have happened in our nation had there NOT been a sixty year gap in recognizing and remembering where our national blessings have come from? Where would we be in regard to spiritual growth and understanding?
It is the same in our day-to-day lives. In my own life, I am realizing that when I pause, and take the time to find the “good” thing happening in the midst of my “bad” thing — I have less stress, I feel more connected to God, I think more clearly, and I communicate with grace– hopefully even when I’m under pressure.
Any time I begin to talk this way, someone will say, “You don’t know my life. I don’t have much to be thankful for. Do you know what happened this year?”
I hear you. We are all in the midst of re-organizing our lives. If you find yourself having difficulty giving thanks, here are a few things that I hope will help you to begin the process….
That we have anything at all to be thankful for.
That we can make a tuna fish sandwich with all the fixings.
That we know people who will tell us the truth.
That true love and good health are related.
That she wants your help to hang the Christmas lights.
That we saved old cards and pictures, and have time to go through them, remembering.
That we have adversity. Without it we won’t/can’t grow.
That we are able to breathe.
That we can experience seasons.
That we are living.
That we have a car, and can get from point A to point B.
That we can chase fireflies.
That we have friends.
That the online site has free shipping.
That the mammogram was clear.
That we can watch old movies.
That we live in a free country.
That there are soldiers who fight for our liberty.
That we have the freedom to worship as we choose to.
That we have pets who love us.
That we can believe in Santa Claus and not get into trouble.
That someone in the supermarket said, “Go ahead of me.”
That we can buy MacDonalds or Taco Bell on a busy day.
That we have a job.
That we can color our hair and hide the gray.
That there are so many good books to read.
That God made coffee.
That God made chocolate.
That God invented snow and children invented snowballs.
That the country is still quite safe in spite of the politicians.
That we even have a little spare change.
That the cranberry crop wasn’t ruined by the frosts.
That pumpkin pies are once more in fashion.
That turkey is cheap enough for the poor man’s table.
That when we pray, we have a God who not only hears us, but answers us, and wants relationship.
The old phrase “every cloud has a silver lining” came from the concept of finding something to give thanks for. What “silver” is God wanting to give you today?
(c)2010 Duplication without permission requires permission.