Thanksgiving Day is the fourth Thursday in November. It is the official start of the Christmas season and is marked with parades, huge family meals and much football. Let’s see if we can find out something about early Thanksgivings…….
We all tend to think that the first Thanksgiving happened in 1621 and was celebrated by the Pilgrims and Native Americans. Research tells us that 1) the meal in 1621 was not the first Thanksgiving in North America, 2) turkey was probably not served, and 3) there were no pilgrims!
The Native Americans had always celebrated the harvest for thousands of years prior to the settling of the Americas by European colonists. The first documented Thanksgiving celebration was actually in 1578 when an English adventurer, Martin Frobisher, held a formal ceremony in what is now New Foundland to give thanks for a successful ocean journey.
Besides the settlement in Canada, the French, Spanish, and the Dutch all had settlements in North America and many of the old traditions and observances, such as celebrating the harvest, would have been carried to their new homes.
The early arrivals to the Plymouth Colony were not farmers and were taught how to plant and harvest by the Native Americans already living in the area.
That brings up the question of what was the event in 1621 if it wasn’t a Thanksgiving celebration? A large celebration was held to which the Indians in the area were invited. It probably was a secular celebration of the harvest, because in their faith, a day of Thanksgiving would have followed a period of prayer and fasting.
The huge celebration we read about in our history books did not fit the celebration that usually followed fasting and prayer. This was a one-time-only event. We find no mention that it was ever repeated
The first real Thanksgiving was celebrated at the end of a drought in the summer of 1623. These early settlers spent as much time in religious ceremonies to give thanks as they did at a huge meal. These first celebrations were held outdoors since there were no buildings big enough. We read that some ninety Indians feasted with the settlers and killed five deer for the occasion. There was fowl of all kinds in the woods. Some accounts say this took place in 1621 and some say 1623. In any case, the first Thanksgiving of the Massachusetts Bay Colony took place in 1630 on July 8.
The first Thanksgiving of the new United States of America occurred in 1777 when General George Washington and his Army stopped in open fields on their way to Valley Forge. Washington’s first proclamation after
his inauguration as the nation’s first President was to proclaim November 26, 1789 as a day of national prayer and thanksgiving.
The annual day of Thanksgiving ceased for 45 years in the early 1800’s, but Lincoln brought it back in 1863.
In 1941, Roosevelt signed a bill stating that Thanksgiving was to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November each year. For the next fifteen years, some states continued to celebrate the holiday on the last Thursday of the month even though two out of seven years there are five Thursdays in the month of November. Yes, this is one of those odd years. We have five Thursdays this year. Since 1956, the fourth Thursday of November has been celebrated as Thanksgiving by all states.
So there you have it….A bit about Thanksgiving… God bless you.