Thursday, November 23, 2023

The Origin of Thanksgiving Day as A National Holiday


Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday that is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. Giving thanks has long been a tradition of our Judeo-Christian heritage. “Unto Thee, O God, do we give thanks”, the Psalmist sang, praising God not only for the “wonderous works” of His creation, but for loving guidance and deliverance from dangers.

Phippsburg, Maine, marks a 1607 Thanksgiving in Popham Colony -

Painting by GrangerIn accordance with this tradition of thanks, a group of settlers arrived in Maine in 1607 and held a service of thanks for their safe journey, and twelve years later set aside a day of Thanksgiving for their survival. The most well-known Thanksgiving occurred just a couple of years later in Plymouth Colony in 1621.

Pilgrim Fathers painting Mayflower by Bernard GribbleIn September 1620, a ship named Mayflower left from Plymouth, England carrying over one-hundred passengers. These brave and resilient individuals were risking their lives in pursuit of religious freedom and prosperity in the New World. The trip was long and treacherous, it took over two months before they made landfall near the tip of Cape Cod. Despite the challenging journey, these settlers pushed onward and eventually crossed the Massachusetts Bay and began working to establish what is now recognized as Plymouth Colony.

Shortly after this arrival, the settlers (now commonly referred to as pilgrims) were forced to endure a brutal winter. This weather came with such haste that most of the settlers had to live on their boat where they suffered from exposure, scurvy, and disease. This devastating winter killed nearly half of their population. 

When the snow started to melt in late March of 1621, the settlers moved back to the land where they were greeted by a member of the Abenaki tribe who spoke to them in English. Illustration depicting Squanto, serving as guide and interpreter

for the English Pilgrims at the Plymouth colony, circa 1621A few days later, the Native man returned with another man named Squanto. Squanto showed the pilgrims how to cultivate crops (mainly corn), fish the rivers, extract maple sap from trees, and avoid poisonous plants.

In November of 1621, the first corn harvest proved bountiful, and Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast for the pilgrims and invited a group of their Native American allies. This feast is known as the “First Thanksgiving”.

Then President George Washington penned these words to issue a proclamation on October 3, 1789, designating Thursday, November 26 as a national day of thanks:

Text of George Washington’s October 3, 1789 national Thanksgiving

Proclamation; as printed in The Providence Gazette and Country

Journal, on October 17, 1789

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.

George Washington Portrait painted by John Parrot

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 shown 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 third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

G. Washington
Signature of President George Washington

Since that first feast in November of 1621, Thanksgiving has been an American tradition that continues its influence into our modern era. Every year, on the fourth Thursday in November, we take time to slow down and express gratitude for all that we have been bestowed. We bow our heads and thank God for our many blessings, friends, and families. We give thanks to our brave veterans that keep us safe, we give thanks to our fellow citizens of Oklahoma for helping make our communities strong, and we express our gratitude because we have the privilege of living in the greatest Nation in the history of mankind.

God Bless you all, and God Bless America.

For the People,

Nathan Dahm
OKGOP Chairman