Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863. However, the first Thanksgiving feast took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, 242 years earlier in 1621. Throughout the Colonial era, English settlers in New England held days to give thanks to God for their blessings, such as much-needed rainfall, and later on for victories in the Revolutionary War.
What we celebrated as the first Thanksgiving brought together the pilgrims and their Native American neighbors—people from different backgrounds, cultures, and values, all sitting at the same table. While they had a lot of differences, the first Thanksgiving was about finding a way to connect and celebrate over what we had in common. It’s easy to see our differences, but there is real value in celebrating what we all have in common.
“Peace with foreign nations, expanding borders, growing population, and farms, mines, and industry that were producing well.“
Kilpatrick says he was asking Americans in the North and the South to “look beyond the current horrors to a better day when the country is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increases of freedom.”
While many continued to celebrate Thanksgiving, Lincoln’s proclamation did not have the force of law. For that, the Thanksgiving Celebration needed an act of Congress. The country would have to wait until 1941 when Congress finally took action, passing a resolution naming the fourth Thursday of November as the permanent date of the national holiday of Thanksgiving.
This Thanksgiving, when we pause to remember all that we have to be thankful for, it will be different from last year and every Thanksgiving before it. The thought of gathering together with the people we love most is something we took for granted before COVID.
So much has changed over the last 20 months, and so many people have suffered immeasurable grief and loss throughout the pandemic. We must remember all that we have suffered through in our thoughts and prayers this Thanksgiving.
To quote the great Ronald Reagan:
“Thanksgiving is a time for expressing gratitude for family, friends, and good fortune. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the founding of our nation, the principles and ideals it stands for, and the ongoing need for citizens to give back to the community and country to uphold that vision. Often, however, the true meaning of the day can get lost in the chaos and commercialization of the holiday season, prompting a need to redirect Americans’ attention back to the cause of all the celebrations.”
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
PSALM 118:24 (ESV)