Thanksgiving has been a hallmark of the American people nearly from the beginning of its history. In 1619 a group arrived and settled in a portion of the Jamestown Colony known as Berkeley where the new inhabitants gave thanks to God for a safe journey and declared “We ordain that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
In late autumn of 1620 the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth Massachusetts. They befriended the local Indians, built their own homes and planted some crops. Although only half their number survived that first year and most of their crops did not, they celebrated with three days of thanksgiving in late 1621. Their meals consisted of ducks, geese, turkeys, clams, eels, fish, wild plums, leeks, corn bread and watercress. The local Indians supplied deer. Each year after that the Pilgrims celebrated a day of thanksgiving although there was no set date. Following their example some of the other colonies adopted a yearly day of thanksgiving.
During the Revolutionary war, 8 special days of thanksgiving were celebrated in the new nations following victorious battles. In the year 1789 President Washington named November 26 a day of national thanksgiving, but there was no national follow up in subsequent years although some individual states did celebrate a yearly day of thanksgiving.
In 1863 after the Battle of Gettysburg and the surrender at Vicksburg, President Lincoln proclaimed that the last Thursday of November henceforth would be “a day of thanksgiving and praise to a beneficent Father” much like the Pilgrims’ thanksgiving.
Each year thereafter the President of the United States formally proclaimed the last Thursday in November a day of thanksgiving until the United States Congress in 1941 made the 4th Thursday in November a federal holiday of thanksgiving.
This year we will gather as families on Thanksgiving Day to thank God for the many blessings we have received. It will be a splendid opportunity for each of us to thank our heavenly Father for the gift of life and our individual talents, for our gift of family and friends, our gift of occupation, our gift of living in the United States where we enjoy the freedom to gather, the freedom to vote, the freedom to honor our God in our places of worship, to thank Him for the brilliant men who established our nation, to thank him for the brave men and women who gave their lives that we may enjoy the fruits of freedom today. Thanksgiving Day is a day of remembrance, a day of sharing, but, above all, a day to join all Americans in thanking a generous God for the rich blessings He has given us. May God bless us. May God bless America.