Most Americans have at least a passing knowledge of the history of Thanksgiving. Every year in school auditoriums across the country, a version of the first Thanksgiving is acted out by students. We know that the Pilgrims had the first day of Thanks to celebrate their first crop of corn in November of 1621. This celebration was enjoyed by both the Pilgrims and many of their Native American allies. The
celebration lasted for three days. It was a time of fellowship, dining, and days of thankful prayer to the Lord.
New York was the first state to adopt Thanksgiving as an official holiday in 1817. By the 1860’s almost every state had made Thanksgiving an official holiday. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November 1863. In President Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation, written by Secretary of State William Seward, he stated:
…It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
Thanksgiving was not declared as a federal holiday until October 6, 1941 by Congress. It was originally declared that it be celebrated the last Thursday of the month. However, in December of that year they amended the resolution that Thanksgiving would be the 4th Thursday of the month of November (which was most often the last Thursday of the month unless there were 5 weeks in the month for that year).
Thanksgiving has a rich history here in the United States. It was originally started to praise the Lord for His blessings and mercy to the Pilgrims in a new land. During the Civil War, President Lincoln asked the American people to give thanks to the Lord with “one heart and voice.” It is a day specifically named to remind us that the primary focus for the day is to give Thanks to the Lord.
I have to confess that I have not spent every Thanksgiving of my life focused on praising the Lord. For many years, it was simply a time of getting together with friends and family to eat and be merry. My focus for the day was not on thanking the Lord for His many blessings. In fact, some years it just felt like a “chore” that had to be done because it’s what you are supposed to do.
I really like what President Lincoln said about all of us joining together with “one heart and voice” to praise the Lord for His blessings and mercy. I think that sums up the true spirit of what Thanksgiving is all about. It is all of us as a nation being united in offering our thanks to the Lord.
This Thanksgiving I will be joining my heart and voice with all the other people who are giving thanks and praise to our God.
May you have a blessed Thanksgiving filled with the love of the Lord and the
love and laughter of your family and friends.