OPINION: Thanksgiving, Our National Holiday To Give Thanks

By State Senator Roy Dyson (D-29th)

Thanksgiving is our national day of giving thanks, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.

However, Thanksgiving, as an assigned day to give thanks for our blessings, is not uniquely American, and it was not always celebrated on that date.

Throughout history, mankind has celebrated the bountiful harvest with thanksgiving ceremonies.

According to Wikipedia and historical research, the earliest attested celebration of Thanksgiving was on September 8, 1565, in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida. Nevertheless, the "first Thanksgiving" is venerated as having occurred at the site of Plymouth Plantation in the fall of 1621. Indeed, after the first harvest, the colonists of Plymouth held a three day celebration of food and feasting in 1621. Indian chiefs Massassoit, Squanto and Samoset joined the celebration with ninety of their men.

The first recorded Thanksgiving observance was held on June 29, 1671 at Charlestown, Massachusetts by proclamation of the town's governing council.

During the 1700s, it was common practice for individual colonies to observe days of thanksgiving throughout each year. A Thanksgiving Day two hundred years ago was a day set aside for prayer and fasting, not a day marked by feasting as is today's custom. Later in the 18th century, each of the individual states would 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 of 1777 by the colonies nationwide, commemorating the surrender of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga.

In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation, declaring, "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." Washington assigned the date of celebration to Thursday, November 26.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving proclamation in the midst of the Civil War, inviting "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 for our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."

The spirit of Thanksgiving is more important than its history. It has become thoroughly woven into the tapestry of our history. In keeping with Abraham Lincoln's proclamation, whenever and wherever possible, our troops stationed around the world and those fighting our wars are given a Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings.

Thanksgiving is turkey and pumpkin pie. It is promising oneself not to overeat. It is overeating, nonetheless. Thanksgiving is football games and Black Friday, the shoppers' time to begin Christmas shopping. Thanksgiving is the crisp air of Autumn, which holds the hint of a White Christmas.

Thanksgiving is a time to pause and give thanks. As Americans we gather with family and friends to give thanks for our blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

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