How did we come to celebrate the third Thursday in November by gathering around the dining table with family and friends and carving up a roasted Turkey? Why is Thanksgiving a time for thanks? Well, most of us learned in grade school that originally, the first settlers to arrive in America, who we usually refer to as Pilgrims, celebrated together with the Native Americans they encountered here. We learned it was a meal based on friendship and gratitude on the part of the Pilgrims for the help they received from the Native Americans during their first months here. We also learned that the main course was a wild turkey, hence today we typically roast a turkey in the oven for our Thanksgiving meal.
In actuality, days of thanksgiving had originated in England during the Reformation age. These days were celebrations of victories and other events seen to be blessings. In contrast, days of fasting were often practiced in response to tragedies and hardships suffered, such as flooding or extended drought. The date attributed to the first Thanksgiving in America is 1621, but there is no hard evidence to corroborate that date. And, a few other dates vie for the honor of being the first Thanksgiving, including 1623 and 1631. Throughout the colonial period, several dates were proclaimed a day of thanksgiving, usually in the fall, after harvest time. However, George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God”
As you pull up your chair at the dining room table this year, it’s nice to think about the long history the celebration has. It wasn’t always about watching football on the television, or kicking back in the recliner after eating far too much, but it has always been about recognizing our blessings and being thankful for them.