A Thanksgiving Primer
The History Files 11.22.21
” Primer – an elementary textbook that serves as an introduction to a subject…”Oxford Dictionary
Chances are, if I asked you when the first Thanksgiving was, you would refer in some way to the Pilgrims and their guests in the Fall of 1621, when they shared their first harvest in the new world. This is not really the truth, tho’.
That celebration, although they were thankful for their harvest, was not declared to be “Thanksgiving”, or even afterwards set apart as a regular festival for them to celebrate. It was more of a one and done event. Over a hundred and fifty years later, during the colonial revolution, the colonial legislatures often set aside days of prayer to recognize military victories. After Burgoyne’s surrender to the American’s at Saratoga, NY in October of 1777, the Continental Congress suggested a national day to be set aside to recognize the victory.
General George Washing agreed, proclaiming December 18, 1777 the first national thanksgiving day. In the years that followed, other national thanksgiving proclamations were made as well.
Then, on October 3, 1798, now President Washington, set the precedent for America’s National Day of Thanksgiving with His Thanksgiving Proclamation.
(I can hear Nicolas Cage, from National Treasure saying, “Phew…people just don’t write like this anymore.”)
Washington, the newly elected President of the newly formed United States of America was careful to abide by the newly ratified Constitution of the United Stated and therefore passed this proclamation on to the states, asking them to announce it and observe it. Newspapers published it and thanksgiving celebrations were held.
Washington celebrated that first Thanksgiving by attending a service at St. Paul’s Chapel in NYC and by donating food and beer to imprisoned debtors in the city.
In the years that followed, Presidents John Adams and James Madison also declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.
But it was not until October 3, 1863, during the height of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation decreeing the last Thursday in November as America’s National Day of Thanksgiving. Congress folowed suit in 1870 by establishing it.
Harper’s Weekly carried it, and on October 5, printed an art piece by the famous Thomas Nast that illustrated “scenes of a grateful nation.”
Thomas Nast’s art
In many of our modern thanksgiving celebrations and family gatherings, lost are the deepest expressions of humble dependence and gratitude for God’s care, provision, blessings and protection, as found in Washington and Lincoln’s proclamations. Lost is the public humility and utter desperation for The Almighty’s divine providence by our elected officials. Lost is the recognition of our dire hoplessness without God’s intervention in our affairs. Gone is the humble submission to the Creator of the Universe, Giver of Life and it’s many benefits.
In his proclamation, President Washington said,
“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.“1798 Thanksgiving Proclamation
It IS our duty, as individuals and as a nation. Not just to be thankful for family, friends, jobs, homes and health; but to give thanks to “our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
Where would we be without His blessings? Care? Guidence? Help? Strength? Protection? Provision? Life? Redemption? Love?
These are the elementary tenets of America’s Day of Thanksgiving. May we return to the most basic tenent of expressing our thanks to the Almighty for all He has done for us.