Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Origins

Isn't Thanksgiving the best holiday?!! It's not as hectic and commercialized as Christmas... although I do love Christmas too. But a whole holiday devoted to being thankful is such a good thing. My pastor, who also loves Thanksgiving, always brings up the point that without the Lord, who are people thankful to? The whole country stops and celebrates Thanksgiving, but unfortunately, they aren't directly their thanks to the One who deserves it.

I found these facts about the history of Thanksgiving, and it's original purpose, to be very interesting and helpful. As we prepare for Thanksgiving, may each of remember that it's more than just turkey and pies! (And I love me some apple pie!!). This info is directly from the Christian Law Association website. You can find much more on their site than I included here.

The First National Thanksgiving

America’s first national Day of Thanksgiving occurred on September 25, 1789. It was the nation’s first official act set by Congress after that body completed the Constitution and Bill of Rights. According to the early equivalent of the Congressional Record:

Mr. [Elias] Boudinot said he could not think of letting the session pass without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining with one voice in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings He had poured down upon them. With this view, therefore, he would move the following resolution:

Resolved, That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer. . .

Mr. Roger Sherman justified the practice of thanksgiving on any single event not only as a laudable one in itself but also as warranted by a number of precedents in Holy Writ. . . . This example he thought worthy of a Christian imitation on the present occasion.

President George Washington heartily concurred with this request to thank Almighty God at the birth of the new Constitution. He issued the first federal Thanksgiving proclamation, declaring in part:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor. . . . Now, therefore, I do appoint Thursday, the 26th day of November 1789 . . . that we may all unite to render unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection.

So much for any hint of the desire for a “separation of church and state” to be found in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights! While our Founders wanted to prohibit the establishment of an official national church, they quite obviously had absolutely no intention of separating God from the American government.

Following President Washington’s initial proclamation, days of Thanksgiving were sporadically proclaimed.

Another by President Washington in 1795;
One by John Adams in 1799;
Others by James Madison in 1814 and 1815.

But most official Thanksgivings in early America were observed at the state level. By 1815, the various state governments had issued at least 1,400 official calls for prayer and thanksgiving or for prayer and fasting.

President Lincoln’s Proclamation

While our Founders wanted to thank God for the new nation they had just established, Thanksgiving did not become an annual event in America until the time of President Abraham Lincoln. After being importuned by Sarah Josepha Hale, a popular women’s magazine editor, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November, 1863, as a day “of Thanksgiving and Praise to our benevolent Father.” He proclaimed this national Day of Thanksgiving in the midst of the darkest days of the Civil War, noting:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. The President continued,

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

The 1863 Day of Thanksgiving was remarkable because it was held during a time in which the Union Army had been losing battle after battle for three extremely brutal and bloody war years.
That time was also a pivotal point in Lincoln’s own personal spiritual life. Just several months earlier, the Battle of Gettysburg had resulted in the loss of more than 60,000 American lives—-in a single battle. President Lincoln would later explain to an Illinois clergyman that it was while walking among the thousands of graves at Gettysburg that he first committed his life to Christ. He confessed:When I left Springfield [Illinois, to assume the Presidency], I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ.

That tragedy of 60,000 dead affected Abraham Lincoln’s eternal destiny as well as the rest of his brief remaining earthly life. His dedication to Christ was visible in his public pronouncements for the remainder of his presidency.

A Continuing Tradition
Since President Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation, each President has issued an annual proclamation declaring a National Day of Thanksgiving to God, although the actual dates varied widely. It was in 1933 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt, another president destined to witness the brutality of war, as well as the chaos of economic collapse, called for an annual national Day of Thanksgiving every fourth Thursday of November. Finally, in 1941, ironically just a few weeks before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Congress permanently established the fourth Thursday of November as an official national Thanksgiving holiday.

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