Thanksgiving Day is here again. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! Thanksgiving Day is a special Day in the United States and Canada that probably descended from festivals held in England.
The first Thanksgiving in America was exactly what the words describe. It was simply an expression of gratitude. It took place on the banks of the James River near where Charles City, Virginia, now stands and was held to commemorate the arrival of 38 English settlers on December 4, 1619. The day of arrival was to be observed yearly.
The first Thanksgiving in New England took place in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, less than a year after the settlers landed in America. About half of the settlers died during the first winter at Plymouth. The summer of 1621 brought new hope for the settlers. Governor William Bradford organized a celebration to give thanks to God for the blessings received.
The festival was held in early autumn and lasted for three days. The menu included ducks, geese, turkeys, clams, fish, plums, leeks, watercress, and corn bread. The cooking was done over outdoor fires, and large tables were set up for eating. About ninety Indians came to the celebration and brought deer to share.
Similar celebrations were held in Plymouth annually, but no particular day was set. The custom of celebrating Thanksgiving Day spread to other New England colonies. There was no regular national Thanksgiving Day for many years even though numerous states had regular Thanksgiving holidays. Numerous presidents tried to promote Thanksgiving Day. George Washington proclaimed November 26, 1789, a day of national thanksgiving. Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November 1863 as a "day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father." For seventy-five years the President proclaimed the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. In 1939 Franklin D. Roosevelt - good ole FDR - proclaimed Thanksgiving to be a week earlier. Congress finally passed a law that after 1941 the fourth Thursday in November would be observed as Thanksgiving Day and would be a legal federal holiday.
Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. I drove through Canada on their Thanksgiving weekend this year and had an opportunity to ask some questions about their celebration. I came away from those discussions with the understanding that Thanksgiving is a low-key holiday in Canada and not the big production we make of it in the United States. Canadians purchase lovely fall flowers to decorate their tables and visit with family members, but they don’t spend all week cooking an enormous meal that is gone in half an hour. It seems to me that Americans can learn something from the Canadians: Thanksgiving is a time to show gratitude for our many blessings as well as to prepare ourselves for the celebration of the birth of Christ. Facts for this post came from an article by Joan R. Gundersen, World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 19, 229-230.