Most Americans trace our annual celebration of Thanksgiving to the feast held in the autumn of 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, when the Pilgrims invited members of the Wampanoag tribe to join them in thanking God for their survival and for that year’s harvest.
But it was not the first Thanksgiving in the New World. In December 1619, seventy-five days after a stormy trans-Atlantic trip, settlers at the Berkeley Plantation on the James River in Virginia observed “a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
According to the Williamsburg Foundation, the newly arrived colonists read “from the Book of Common Prayer. There was no grand meal. In fact, they likely fasted, a common practice during religious days in those times.”
During America’s Revolutionary War against the British, numerous Thanksgiving proclamations were made by officials in the colonies. After America won its independence, President George Washington issued the first proclamation under the Constitution on October 3, 1789, designating Thursday, November 26, as a national day of thanks.
His famous opening:
“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—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer…. we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.”
Other presidents such as John Adams and James Madison also issued Thanksgiving proclamations, but it was not until the Civil War in the 1860s that Abraham Lincoln made it an annual occurrence that is observed to this day.
While the headlines pronounce that our country is riven by conflicts great and small, we still have much for which to be thankful on this most American of national holidays. We remain a self-governing people, and we live in the freest, most prosperous nation in history.
We are thankful to our Creator for life itself, for our families and friends and for those who serve, often at great sacrifice.
Here at the ACRU, we wish you and yours a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!