(Archive - Week of November 20, 2004)

The First Thanksgiving

What people call the first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims' celebration of their harvest in 1621 wasn't a Thanksgiving to them. To the Pilgrims, a Thanksgiving was a formal religious service. Nowhere in their writings about the first year in Plymouth do they mention such a service. They do mention a three-day feast, however, and historians believe it was a Harvest Home Celebration, such as those held in England to celebrate the gathering of the crops.

What We Know About the First Harvest Home

There were about 140 people (90 Indian men and about 50 Pilgrims) at the three-day celebration. Four adult women (the only women left after the terrible first winter) probably were in charge of all the cooking.

The date was sometime between September 21 and November 9, 1621. On the menu were sea bass, cod, wildfowl-duck, geese, or wild turkey; cornmeal; and five deer brought by the Indians. Vegetables and fruit were probably part of the meal also. Games, singing, and dancing were most likely part of the celebration.

The First Thanksgiving Proclamation June 20, 1676

On June 20, 1676 the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts held a meeting to determine how best to express thanks for the good fortune that had seen their community securely established. By unanimous vote they instructed Edward Rawson, the clerk, to proclaim June 29 as a day of thanksgiving, our first.

That proclamation is reproduced here in the same language and spelling as the original:

"The Holy God having by a long and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this land, written and brought to pass bitter things against his own Covenant people in this wilderness, yet so that we evidently discern that in the midst of his judgements he hath remembered mercy, having remembered his Footstool in the day of his sore displeasure against us for our sins, with many singular Intimations of his Fatherly Compassion, and regard; reserving many of our Towns from Desolation Threatened, and attempted by the Enemy, and giving us especially of late with many of our Confederates many signal Advantages against them, without such Disadvantage to ourselves as formerly we have been sensible of, if it be the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed, It certainly bespeaks our positive Thankfulness, when our Enemies are in any measure disappointed or destroyed; and fearing the Lord should take notice under so many Intimations of his returning mercy, we should be found an Insensible people, as not standing before Him with Thanksgiving, as well as lading him with our Complaints in the time of pressing Afflictions:

The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God's Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being perswaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and soulds as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ."

President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in 1863

George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, the year of his inauguration as President of the United States of America.   He called for another Thanksgiving Day in 1795.  With other presidents and state governors proclaiming days of thanksgiving at various times there was no effort to organize a yearly Thanksgiving Day until Mrs. Sarah Joseph Hale started her crusade in 1827.   It took thirty-six years to achieve victory when, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln made his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation.  The nation has celebrated the special day ever since.

Today Thanksgiving Day is a legal holiday with most government and private employees being given the day off.   Some companies and most schools also shut down the following Friday.   Yes, the United States of America, for most purposes, observes Thanksgiving Day.

But, it appears that Thanksgiving Day, like most other national and religious holidays, has been highly commercialized, to the point that many people forget what we are supposed to be celebrating.  If we were to survey people on the street and ask, "What stands out in your mind when you think of Thanksgiving Day," we would probably get answers like: turkey, dinner, pilgrims, fall, pumpkins, corn stalks, etc.

But, how many people on Thanksgiving Day actually pause and do what the name of the event suggests?  What portion of the celebrators do stop to thank God for our nation and for all we have?


NOAH'S NOTE: Happy Birthday to my grandson, Johnny, who will celebrate his 19th birthday the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 26.  Johnny is a student at the University of Oregon.


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