Thanksgiving tradition explained

Contrary to popular belief, the first Thanksgiving in the colonies probably didn’t take place in order for the Pilgrims to thank the Native Americans for their help.

A very religious people, the Pilgrims invited the Native Americans to take part in a feast to thank God for the blessings He gave them.

Going Nationwide

It’s true that America looks to the celebration that took place in December 1621 as the first American Thanksgiving.

However, it wasn’t until George Washington’s Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789 that Thanksgiving was actually observed by more people.

Washington, being prompted by Congress, encouraged Americans to thank God for giving them the ability to establish a new government.

It took 75 more years for Thanksgiving to become an official U.S. Holiday.

When President Abraham Lincoln was in office, magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale urged Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a holiday that the Union would observe on the same day.

Prior to Hale’s suggestion, states had not observed Thanksgiving on a common day.

Lincoln Makes It Official

On October 3, 1863, Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation appointing the last Thursday of November to be a national day of Thanksgiving. He wanted the American people to thank God for the gifts He has given them, especially during a time when the country was in the middle of a civil war.

Today, Americans still gather together with friends and family to give thanks for these same blessings.

The food may be a little different than it was in 1621, but Americans gather together for the same reason, to give thanks.

Pilgrims’ Saving Grace

As for the Pilgrims surviving because of the Indians, that is a bit of a stretch.

The year leading up to the first Thanksgiving and the few years following it were hard times for the Pilgrims. Even with good advice from Indians like Squanto, the settlers didn’t bring in big enough harvests those first few years. Part of the reason may have been the incentives set up for the Pilgrims to work.

Private Property Trumps Communal Living

William Bradford, Plymouth Colony’s 2nd governor, documented the Pilgrim’s journey to obtain religious freedoms and new lives in the New World over a span of roughly 30 years.

In his journal entitled “Of Plymouth Plantation”, he tells about the first Thanksgiving and the events before and after it.

Under the “Mayflower Compact”, the Pilgrims didn’t work for themselves, they worked for the community. Bradford indicates this gave some them less incentive to work.
It wasn’t until the Pilgrims disposed of the “Common Course and Condition” section of the “Mayflower Compact” which had encouraged communal living, that they prospered.

Once each family was given ownership of a piece of land to farm, harvests were much more plentiful since more people were willing to work for themselves, he wrote.


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