What is Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is a traditional North
holiday, which is a form of harvest festival. Thanksgiving is
celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States.
This year, it will fall on November 25th, 2010.
Thanksgiving is an annual American Federal holiday to express
for one's material and spiritual possessions. The period from
Thanksgiving Day to New Year's Day often is called the holiday season.
Most people celebrate by gathering at home with family or friends for a
Thanksgiving generally is considered secular, or at least nonsectarian,
and is not based on any specific religious canon or dogma. Though the
holiday's origins can be traced to harvest festivals that have been
celebrated in many cultures since ancient times, the American holiday
has religious undertones related to the deliverance of the English
settlers after the brutal winter at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Since being fixed at the fourth Thursday in November by law in 1941,
the holiday in the United States can occur as early as November 22 to
as late as November 28. As it is a Federal holiday, all United States
government offices are closed and employees are paid for that day. It
is also a holiday for the New York Stock Exchange, and also for most
other financial markets and financial services companies.
Information courtesy of Wikipedia
Thanksgiving Celebrations in the New
The date and whereabouts of the first
Thanksgiving celebration is a
topic of modest contention, though the earliest recorded Thanksgiving
ceremony took place on September 8, 1565, when 600 Spanish settlers,
under the leadership of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, landed
at what is now St. Augustine, Florida, and immediately held a Mass of
Thanksgiving for their safe delivery to the New World; there followed a
feast and celebration. As the La Florida colony did become part of the
United States, this can be classified as the first Thanksgiving.
El Paso, Texas, has also been said to be the site of the first
Thanksgiving to be held in what is now known as the United States,
though that was not a harvest festival. Spaniard Don Juan de
Oñate ordered his expedition party to rest and conducted a mass
in celebration of Thanksgiving on April 30, 1598.
scholarly research to the contrary, the traditional "first
Thanksgiving" is venerated as having occurred at the site of Plymouth
Plantation, in 1621. Squanto, a Patuxet Native American who resided
with the Wampanoag tribe, taught the English Settlers commonly called
the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn and served as an
interpreter for them (Squanto had learned English as a slave in Europe
and travels in England). Without Squanto's help the Pilgrims of the
Plymouth Colony might not have survived in the New World. There is
still controversy about what kind of relationship Native Americans and
Europeans might truly have had, yet a smallpox plague which killed 90
to 96 percent of the local Native American population in the area just
prior to the actual arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620. The Pilgrims set
apart a day of celebration immediately after their first harvest in
1621. At the time, this was not regarded as a Thanksgiving observance;
harvest festivals were existing parts of English and Wampanoag
tradition alike. The Pilgrims did not hold a true Thanksgiving until
1623, when it followed a drought, prayers for rain, and a subsequent
rain shower. Irregular Thanksgivings continued after favorable events
and days of fasting after unfavorable ones. In the Plymouth tradition,
a Thanksgiving Day was a church observance, rather than a feast day.
Gradually, an annual
Thanksgiving after the harvest developed in the
mid-17th century. This did not occur on any set day or necessarily on
the same day in different colonies in America. The Massachusetts Bay
Colony (consisting mainly of Puritan Christians) celebrated
Thanksgiving for the first time in 1630, and frequently thereafter
until about 1680, when it became an annual festival in that colony; and
Connecticut as early as 1639 and annually after 1647, except in 1675.
The Dutch in New Netherland appointed a day for giving thanks in 1644
and occasionally thereafter. During the 18th century individual
colonies commonly observed days of thanksgiving throughout each year.
We might not recognize a traditional Thanksgiving Day from that period,
as it was not a day marked by plentiful food and drink as is today's
custom, but rather a day set aside for prayer and fasting. Later in the
1700s, individual colonies would periodically designate a day of
thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, an adoption of a state
constitution or an exceptionally bountiful crop. Such a Thanksgiving
Day celebration was held in December 1777 by the colonies nationwide,
commemorating the surrender of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga.
Information courtesy of Wikipedia
Historical American Thanksgivings
During the American Revolutionary War the Continental Congress
appointed one or more thanksgiving days each year, each time
recommending to the executives of the various states the observance of
these days in their states. George Washington, leader of the
revolutionary forces in the American Revolutionary War, proclaimed a
Thanksgiving in December 1777 as a victory celebration honoring the
defeat of the British at Saratoga. Later, as president, George
Washington made what is now known as The National Thanksgiving
Proclamation, the first formal proclamation of Thanksgiving in America.
It was made on October 3, 1789, in New York City:
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 to be observed by acknowledging
with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially
by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of
government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend
and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the
People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being,
who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that
will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere
and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of
this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and
manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence,
which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for
the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since
enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been
enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and
happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for
the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the
means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in
general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased
to confer upon us.
And also that 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, to enable us all, whether
in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative
duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a
blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise,
just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and
obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially
such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good
government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice
of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and
Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal
prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in
the year of our Lord 1789.
President John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799. No
Thanksgiving proclamations were issued by Thomas Jefferson but James
Madison renewed the tradition in 1814, in response to resolutions of
Congress, at the close of the War of 1812. Madison also declared the
holiday twice in 1815; however, none of these were celebrated in
autumn. In 1816, Governor Plamer of New Hampshire appointed Thursday,
November 14 to be observed as a day of Public Thanksgiving and Governor
Brooks of Massachusetts appointed Thursday, November 28 to be "observed
throughout that State as a day of Thanksgiving."
A thanksgiving day was annually appointed by the governor of New York
from 1817. In some of the Southern states there was opposition to the
observance of such a day on the ground that it was a relic of Puritanic
bigotry, but by 1858 proclamations appointing a day of thanksgiving
were issued by the governors of 25 states and two territories.
In the middle of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln,
prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale,
proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final
Thursday in November 1863:
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 unequaled 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 defense, have not
arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had 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 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, tranquility 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.
Since then, Thanksgiving has been observed annually in the United
Abraham Lincoln's successors as president followed his example of
annually declaring the final Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving.
But in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt broke with this tradition.
November had five Thursdays that year, and Roosevelt declared the
fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving rather than the fifth one. In 1940, in
which November had four Thursdays, he declared the third one as
Thanksgiving. Many popular histories incorrectly state that Roosevelt
sought to fix the date of Thanksgiving on either the third or fourth
Thursday in November, but he made clear that his plan was to establish
it on the next-to-last Thursday in the month instead of the last one.
With the country still in the midst of The Great Depression,
thought an earlier Thanksgiving would give merchants a longer period to
sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during
this period, Roosevelt hoped, would help bring the country out of the
Depression. At the time, advertising goods for Christmas before
Thanksgiving was considered inappropriate. However, many localities had
made a tradition of celebrating on the last Thursday, and since a
presidential declaration of Thanksgiving Day was not legally binding,
it was widely disregarded. Twenty-three states went along with
Roosevelt's recommendation, 22 did not, and some, like Texas, could not
decide and took both weeks as government holidays. Critics termed
Roosevelt's dating of the holiday as "Franksgiving."
The U.S. Congress in 1941 split the difference and passed a bill
requiring that Thanksgiving be observed annually on the fourth Thursday
of November, which was sometimes the last Thursday and sometimes (less
frequently) the next to last.
On December 26 of that year President Roosevelt signed this
the first time making the date of Thanksgiving a matter of federal law.
Since 1947, or possibly earlier, the National Turkey Federation has
presented the President of the United States with one live turkey and
two dressed turkeys, in a ceremony known as the National Thanksgiving
Turkey Presentation. The live turkey is pardoned and lives out the rest
of its days on a peaceful farm. While it is commonly held that this
pardoning tradition began with Harry Truman in 1947, the Truman Library
has been unable to find any evidence for this. The earliest on record
is with George H. W. Bush in 1989. Still others claim that the
tradition dates back to Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son's pet turkey.
Both stories have been quoted in more recent presidential
In more recent years, two turkeys have been pardoned, in case
original turkey becomes unavailable for presidential pardoning. Since
2003 the public has been invited to vote for the two turkeys' names.
They were named Stars and Stripes in 2003 and 2004's turkeys were
called Biscuit and Gravy. In 2005 the public decided on Marshmallow and
Yam, in 2006 on Flyer and Fryer, and in 2007 on May and Flower. Since
2005, the two turkeys have been flown first class on United Airlines
from Washington, D.C. to the Los Angeles area where they become the
Grand Marshals of Disneyland's annual Thanksgiving Day parade down Main
Street. The two turkeys then live out the rest of their relatively
short lives in Disneyland's Frontierland ranch.
Since 1970, a group of Native Americans and other assorted protesters
(mostly of progressive political persuasion) have held a National Day
of Mourning protest on Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth,
Massachusetts in the name of social equality and in honor of political
Information courtesy of Wikipedia
HERE to read the
Classic Account of the story of Thanksgiving.
HERE to watch a video about the History of Thanksgiving and
became a national holiday.