Thanksgiving in our house is probably not much different than yours. It is a day when our families come together for a sumptuous dinner, just as the Pilgrims in Plymouth enjoyed "a great ... store of wild Turkies," though we now feast on the domesticated descendants of these birds. Dressing, sweet potatoes, squash, potatoes, peas, and cranberries generally complement the turkey, as does a vast array of other culinary attractions. There are probably more pumpkin pies sold, and consumed for this day’s dessert than at any other time of the year.
|Richard Skidmore is a professor at Los Angeles Pierce College, Woodland Hills, California.|
Then there are the varied special events, parades and football, some nationally televised.
Of course what we celebrate today does not reflect the days of Thanksgiving that were called by the Pilgrims or our first generations. Though I am always interested in the politically correct retelling that our schools engage in, teaching that the Pilgrims gathered together to thank the Indians for their harvest and good fortune—not hardly!
A letter written December 11, 1621, by Edward Winslow to a friend in England describes what we know as the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving in Plymouth Colony.
And it was Gov. William Bradford in his history “of Plimouth Plantation” who described the hardships these people faced, in crossing the Atlantic, surviving the first winter, loosing almost half of their group to sickness, starvation and death. Yet, they were grateful to God for the food they harvested, their survival, the Indians’ friendship, donation of seed for corn, and gifts of wild game; and their Thanksgiving feast was a three-day event!
Afterwards, Thanksgiving was celebrated irregularly in New England and on various occasions in the other colonies.
Thomas Jefferson as Governor of Virginia in 1779, in his official capacity, declared and established a Thanksgiving day stating: “I appoint ... a day of public Thanksgiving to Almighty God ... to ask Him that He would ... pour out His Holy Spirit on all ministers of the Gospel; that He would ... spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth; ... and that He would establish these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue.” Do you think Jefferson was concerned about “Separation of Church and State”?
The first national Thanksgiving occurred in 1789. The “Congressional Record” for September 25 of that year records that after approving the Bill of Rights Mr. Elias Boudinot recommended to congress that an opportunity be afforded all citizens of the United States to join in one voice to return to Almighty God their sincere thanks for His many blessings poured down on them.
Their resolution was delivered to President George Washington who heartily concurred with the congressional request, declaring:
“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor ... Now, therefore, I do appoint Thursday, the 26th day of November 1789 ... that we may all unite to render unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection.”
National Thanksgiving Proclamations occurred only sporadically following Washington’s until 1863 when President Lincoln, heeding the thirty-year quest of Mrs. Sarah Joseph Hale, set aside the last Thursday of November as the official day of National Thanksgiving, declaring:
“We often forget the Source from which the blessings of fruitful years and healthful skies come. . . . No human wisdom hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God ... I therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States ... to observe the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
Congress, in 1941, permanently established the fourth Thursday of November for this national observance, and every President since Lincoln has annually issued a Presidential proclamation of remembrance for the day.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, may we remember to retain the original gratefulness to God that has always been the spirit of this, the oldest of all American holidays.
Skidmore is a professor at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Ca. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.