Fall is upon us. That means that pumpkin spice has returned, college football is back and Thanksgiving is around the corner. I know that in my house, Thanksgiving can sometimes get overshadowed with visiting relatives, cooking a turkey and eating too much. However, the roots of our modern day holiday are much simpler. Since the founding of our nation, we have come together to share in various moments of thanksgiving. Whether it was the prosperity of the Pilgrims or Washington’s victory over the British, the tradition of sharing in our bounty was celebrated and remained a fixture throughout our early history and remains so today. Our nation’s founders, including George Washington, John Adams, John Hancock and John Jay, all took special care to ensure that the nation set aside a day to give thanks for all that we enjoyed.
The first Thanksgiving was celebrated at the end of the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest. The event was a three day feast, where aside from sharing in their bounty, they also went hunting and competed in games. The Pilgrims shared this time with the Native Americans, who showed them how to tend local crops after a brutal winter. In one of the only two accounts of the event, Edward Winslow described the celebrations like this:
Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner, rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors…
And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
The tradition of celebrating prosperity at the end of periods of hardship was continued by President George Washington. At the request of Congress, George Washington proclaimed the nation’s first official Thanksgiving on November 26th, 1789. In his proclamation, President Washington poignantly reminded our country to be thankful for its successful struggle for independence and establishment of our new constitution. He urged people to:
Unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks for his kind care and protection of the people of this country, previous to their becoming a nation for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness and particularly the national one, now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed…
As we near the holiday season and prepare for all that comes with it, let us all remember to be thankful for the prosperity we enjoy, the freedoms won on our behalf and to give according to our means.