Yesterday in church as the minister outlined its history, I realized how little I knew about this day. Sure, I learned as a youngster that the first Thanksgiving is said to have been shared by the Pilgrims with Indians in celebration of their harvest and survival in a hostile new world, but there is more to the story than that first celebration in 1621.
In 1789, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation associated with the US government. It was to be a day of gratitude for the conclusion to the country’s war of independence and ratification of the Constitution.
In 1817, New York was the first of several states to adopt an official Thanksgiving holiday, and depending on where you were it was celebrated in a number of ways.
In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln entreated Americans to heal the nation’s wounds and scheduled Thanksgiving for the last Thursday in November. It was celebrated on that day until 1939 when Franklin Roosevelt reluctantly signed a bill declaring Thanksgiving to be on the fourth Thursday of November. The intent for the change was an effort to spur retail sales during the Depression. That idea certainly seems to have carried forth, and stores now make a big deal out of opening late Thanksgiving day.
Thanksgiving is not really a religious holiday but a time to enjoy family and friends or, if you are so inclined, a parade either on TV or in person. It is a day that football games have become part of, and, of course, it is one where most of us are guilty of overeating.
A blog friend Claire of Promenade Plantings wrote last week of getting caught up in Thanksgiving though it was not part of her English tradition. That actually got me thinking about the holiday and how it has become uniquely American, but encouraged by yesterday’s sermon to look at its history I found that the roots of Thanksgiving can be traced to ancient cultures that celebrated their times of plenty.
In this country, sadly as my minister pointed out, much of Thanksgiving’s history has revolved around crisis such as war or hard financial times. In significant ways, this year will be no different and many people may find it difficult to be grateful. My hope for all of us, no matter where we are or how hard times may be, is that we will look for the good that marks our lives and be generous in our gratitude.
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