Harper's Weekly Vol II, 27 Nov 1858, p. 760

Thanksgiving Day–Arrival at the Old Home Harper’s Weekly Vol II, 27 Nov 1858, p. 760


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.

– from Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving, October 3, 1863

Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated in the U.S.A. and Canada.  The U.S.A. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.  It originates in the practice of making proclamations that set aside a day to give thanks to God for His provision.  thanksgiving Day as we celebrate it is actually an expression of being thankful to God for the blessings of the harvest.  Many equate the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and Indians sitting down together to share a meal while giving thanks for an especially bountiful harvest in 1621 in Plymouth (Massachusetss).  There are other claims for the first thanksgiving in America including one as early as 1565 in St. Augustine, Florida.

Thanksgiving as we know it today has more in common with the New England tradition of declaring days of Thanksgiving acknowledging God’s provision.  Declaring a day of Thanksgiving in November in recognition of the provision of the harvest emerged as a regular occurrence in the 1660s. As New Englanders spread out into the growing country they brought along with them this tradition. The first official declaration of a day of Thanksgiving in November was in 1777 and others were declared from time-to-time until 1815. At that time it fell out of favor and reverted back to a regional observance to emerge once again in the 1850s.  

In 1863 there were two days of national Thanksgiving declared by President Abraham Lincoln. The first on August 6 to celebrate the victory at Gettysburg and the other for the last Thursday in November in thanksgiving for the harvest. A proclamation had to be made each year to declare Thanksgiving’s observance until it was made a national holiday in 1941. In 1931 there were two Thanksgivings. Believing that moving the annual Thanksgiving observance one week earlier would give retailers more shopping days before Christmas, President Roosevelt issued a proclamation that Thanksgiving would be on the fourth Thursday instead of the last. It was actually this that caused Congress to finally set the national holiday.

Families gather together in thanksgiving with a feast commonly consisting of turkey as the main dish surrounded by stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, vegetables, etc. Pumpkin pie is a common dessert. It is common for families to have their own special dish that is served.  It is a true time of tradition and remembering the past.  

In the end Thanksgiving is indeed based on celebrating the harvest and as a time to gather the family together from near and far.  It was promoted especially by Sarah Josepha Hale, the long-time editor of  Godey’s Ladies Book (1837-1877), as a time to for the entire nation to express gratitude for its many blessings.   

Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

~An Old Irish blessing