The feast has been eaten, and the company has returned to their homes. At the end of another day of thanksgiving and gratitude, I pause to consider the fact that the United States government has set a special day to remember our blessings and to give thanks for them. I came to the startling realization yesterday that our secular government has an annual federal holiday to practice a spiritual principle. I found this fact to be quite interesting. How did we come to this point, and how long will it last?
Most Americans know that the first Thanksgiving took place in November 1621. The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native American tribe gathered at Plymouth to celebrate their autumn harvest. It is assumed that the Pilgrims continued the practice of an annual day for giving thanks for a bounteous harvest.
Congress approved an official Thanksgiving in 1777, and President George Washington made a formal proclamation of Thanksgiving. He declared that Thursday, November 26, 1789 was to be a day for public thanksgiving and prayer for the new nation known as the United States of America.
It is believed that John Adams followed the Washington tradition for proclaiming a special day for thanksgiving and prayer. However, Thomas Jefferson decided that such a day of thanksgiving violated the separation of church and state. Jefferson’s decision was upheld by his successors until 1963, the third year of the Civil War.
The year 1963 saw a lot of Americans killed in the war between the North and the South. One of the conflicts is known as the Battle of Gettysburg. In honor of the Union’s victory at Gettysburg, on October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed another national day of Thanksgiving. He called for all Americans “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 Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
Even though Thanksgiving was commemorated more regularly after Lincoln’s proclamation, it did not have a specific date until the Great Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt tried all sorts of ways to get the economy moving again, and he decided that Thanksgiving might have a secondary purpose. He moved Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November as a way to encourage shopping on the following day. Who knew that FDR could be considered as the “Father of Black Friday”?
So Thanksgiving went from a sacred day for prayer and gratitude to an excuse for shopping. Long years after FDR Thanksgiving Day became a day for watching football. Then someone thought of Black Friday, and all thoughts of gratitude, prayer, and family went out the window as shoppers sat or stood in line for hours – or days – in order to get the best deals.
Employees of many stores missed out on time with their families because their employers were chasing the almighty dollars. Thankfully, some stores wised up and allowed their employees to spend Thanksgiving Day with their families – before the madness of Black Friday started.
So now it is up to each individual and family to decide whether their Thanksgiving Day will be sacred or secular. I decided years ago that there was nothing that I wanted to purchase bad enough to participate in Black Friday sales. The madness taking place in stores kept me away from them. Then too, Thanksgiving to me is a day for family, prayer, and giving thanks. I believe that it should continue to be a sacred day in spite of the fact that it was created by a secular government.