As we extend Happy Thanksgiving wishes to colleagues, friends, family and strangers, it is worth taking a few moments to remember how this celebration became a national holiday.
The first Thanksgiving was held in 1621 to celebrate the survival of an early colony of settlers in Plymouth, Massachusetts and it included some 91 Indians that aided the Pilgrims. The celebration lasted three days.
The next celebration of thanksgiving was in 1623 when the Pilgrims survived a severe drought. The day after the drought broke, the Pilgrims, who had been praying for rain, celebrated with a feast and the local Indians. None of this established a tradition of thanksgiving as the next would not occur until 1676, and it would be in Charlestown, Massachusetts. There, the town selected June 29th as a day of celebration. It is noteworthy that this thanksgiving did not include the local Indians as the celebration was partly to commemorate the town’s success in defeating them. It would be 101 years later before all of the 13 colonies celebrated a thanksgiving, but, alas, it too would not establish a tradition. That thanksgiving was to rejoice in the defeat of the British at Saratoga, New York, a turning point in the Revolutionary War.
In 1789 George Washington decreed a national day of thanksgiving. However, there remained discord and jealousy amongst the colonies as many thought the holiday was for the Pilgrims. Even President Thomas Jefferson did not want to celebrate a day dedicated to remembering the Pilgrims. Consequently, thanksgiving did not become a national holiday until 1863 when Lincoln established it as such on the last Thursday in November. Ultimately, Congress declared it a legal holiday in 1941 as the fourth Thursday in November.
Tomorrow we will celebrate Thanksgiving. We will do so not to remember the Pilgrims but to remember and appreciate the good things in our lives, our country and the world. I will have a Thanksgiving that recognizes tradition (roast turkey) and change (deep fried turkey). I will share the day with family and friends. I hope you do as well.