Though Thanksgiving Day wasn’t recognized as a national holiday until 1864 when President Lincoln declared a day of thanks to be held annually the last Thursday of November, thanksgiving observances were known as early as 1620. Fifty Pilgrims who had survived their first winter paused to express thankfulness after their harvest and celebrated a three-day holiday of feasting with ninety native Americans present. After that, thanksgiving celebrations within the colonies occurred in sporadic irregularity, often held at the end of a great harvest or to remember a joyous event.
In 1623, Governor James Bradford, after a severe drought, wrote: “And afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing. For which mercy, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving… By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine now God gave them plenty … for which they blessed God. And the effect of their particular planting was well seen, for all had … pretty well … so as any general want or famine had not been amongst them since to this day.” (Of Plymouth Plantation, Bradford journal) His proclamation, coming from a government official, and not as a religious observance, marked the first civil recognition of the celebration of Thanksgiving.
When my great-great-grandfather arrived in Oregon in November,1847, a national holiday wasn’t yet on the books, but records indicate he was grateful to have finished his journey, find his land claim, and make friends with the few settlers who had traveled before him. No doubt one of those meals he remembered sharing with the Skinner family was a meal of gratitude.
Giving thanks is a choice we make as a nation, pausing to remember another year has passed, another season of productivity has come and gone, anticipation filling us as we await the commencement of a new year. In Psalms 136:1 (KJV), King David writes: “Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endures forever.”
This coming Thursday, before the meal, or the service, or however you celebrate the national holiday, take time to give thanks. We were founded as a nation under God, let’s not forget to include him in our festivities. Happy Thanksgiving.