The Traditional Celebration of Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving (1912--1915) by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Thanksgiving is a traditional celebration to mark an auspicious event.

Religious celebrations of gratitude took place among many settlers in the Americas in the 1600s. In the United States, the traditional celebration of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November is associated with the Pilgrim settlers of the Plymouth colony in present day Massachusetts.

The most common account of the first Thanksgiving links the celebration to 1621, when the Pilgrims joined with indigenous people to give thanks for a particularly good harvest after a difficult year within the settlement. Several other settlements in the Americas around this time also have claims for celebrating early Thanksgiving.

The idea of the Thanksgiving event had its origins in England during the Protestant Reformation, when reformers were anxious to replace Catholic public holidays with feast days of their own. A tradition began of celebrating fortuitous events with a special thanksgiving meal; conversely, adverse events were marked by a day of fasting. It was hoped that giving thanks to God might bring further good fortune, while fasting might prevent additional disasters.

Even though several of the symbols and traditions of Thanksgiving are taken from the story of the Pilgrims at the Plymouth colony, the holiday is now a celebration of a spirit of gratefulness rather than a commemoration of a particular day or event. As a religious celebration, Thanksgiving is intended to remind those who celebrate it of God as the provider of all good things. Thanksgiving in the United States is also celebrated with a secular appreciation of the work ethic and perseverance of the early U.S. colonists.

Happy Thanksgiving

Here is the Proclamation of Thanksgiving by Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America. It was issued by William H. Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State on October 3, 1863.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one 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. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,

Secretary of State

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