Why We Celebrate Thanksgiving Day

As with any holiday, it’s important to know the real reason why we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.  If your answer to the “why” is that we’re just so thankful for all the Black Friday deals coming on the following day, I’d have to rap your knuckles with an imaginary ruler.  Allow me to set you straight.

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe - The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth
Jennie Augusta Brownscombe – The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth

Let’s start at the beginning.  A most beloved and festive holiday, Thanksgiving has its origins all the way back to a time when the America we know today was still a vast wilderness teeming with wild animals who were hunted by the fierce Native Americans living there.  Following the harvest of November 1623, the governor William Bradford of the 1620 Plymouth Colony, “Plymouth Plantation”, in Plymouth Massachusetts proclaimed:

Thanksgiving quote

Pilgrims and Native Americans alike gathered to share in that year’s bountiful harvest.  Just like that a timeless tradition was born!

Over the years the actual date of Thanksgiving has been changed, but the true reason we celebrate has, of course, remained solid and unchanging.  On November 1, 1777, the first National Thanksgiving Proclamation was proclaimed by order of Congress and signed by Henry Laurens, President of Continental Congress.  The third Thursday of December, 1777 was thus officially set aside: “…for solemn thanksgiving and praise. That with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor;… and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them (their manifold sins) out of remembrance… That it may please Him… to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety under His nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth of ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost’…”

George WashingtonThen, on January 1, 1795, our first United States President, George Washington, wrote his famed National Thanksgiving Proclamation, in which he says that it is… “…our duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God, and to implore Him to continue is… our duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God, and to implore Him to continue and confirm the blessings we experienced…”  George Washington had the 19th day of February, 1795 set aside as a National Day of Thanksgiving.

Many years passed until, on October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, Abraham Lincolnby Act of Congress, an annual National Day of Thanksgiving “on the last Thursday of November, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” In this Thanksgiving proclamation, our 16th President says that it is… “…announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord… But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, by the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own… It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people…”

And so to this day, in homes all across America, we will sit down with family and friends on Thanksgiving Day and take time to be thankful for the many blessings and gifts we’ve received throughout our lives.


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