Thanksgiving is a unifying holiday that is a testimony of God’s providence.
George Washington had proclaimed a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin” on Thursday, November 26, 1789, so that all people of the United States would take a moment to “acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
Unfortunately, subsequent presidents failed to continue the tradition while individual states determined the Day of Thanksgiving themselves.
On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln hearkened back to Washington’s proclamation and declared a national “Day of Thanksgiving & Praise.” The country was in the middle of the Civil War and the fragile union of states was precarious. President Lincoln wanted to unite the country in a day of Thanksgiving to God because the young country founded on a set of ideals — despite the division, war, and death at that particular time — was still prospering. According to his proclamation, he saw this as the grace of God in the midst of strife.
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. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. 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. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
Now, when we think of Thanksgiving, we don’t think of Washington or Lincoln, we think of Pilgrims and Native Americans and a big feast. And this is the event that the presidents proclaiming a day of thanksgiving were hearkening back to — that First Thanksgiving.
Recently, Thanksgiving has become a controversial holiday with many saying that it is a reminder of the colonization, oppression, and genocide of Native Americans.
Is that true?
Indeed, atrocities were committed in the years following, but not on that First Thanksgiving, and the atrocities were not all one-sided. Historians that seem to want to paint the settlers as the villains also seem to gloss over the feuding and outright brutality of native groups towards each other, and the alliances that formed as a result. Some tribes chose to side with the settlers because of the enslavement and slaughter committed against their people by other tribes.
Although horrendous things happened to bring it about, the first Thanksgiving was indeed a miracle.
Puritans in 1620 traveling to the New World were blown off-course and found a deserted Indian village with supplies of dried corn and fresh water.
[Editor’s Note: Yes, the natives that lived there had likely died of smallpox, but that wasn’t the fault of the Puritans who arrived years later, nor the fault of the other Europeans who traveled there — no one had any knowledge of germ theory in the early 1600s. After all, Leeuwenhoek wouldn’t construct the first primitive microscope until 1677, and it wasn’t until nearly 200 years later that the scientific proof of germ theory was established by the work of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch. So, the idea that Europeans were deliberately introducing disease to native tribes is utterly ridiculous.]
It turns out that being blown off course to Plymouth was the best thing that could have happened to the settlers. It was at this village that they met the one person on the continent that could help them survive — a native man named Squanto.
Watch the story here:
The Pilgrims met the one man who was native, converted to Christianity, and was fluent in English. If they had landed at their intended destination, they wouldn’t have met Squanto. He taught them how to plant crops, translate for them, and broker a peace with their neighbor Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag tribe which resulted in a peace that lasted 50 years.
Sure, there have been problems over the last 200+ years, but find another country that hasn’t had war, poverty, tribal disputes, and abuses of power.
We are again at a time where there are deep divisions in our nation, fueled by politicians, the media, and activists. But America is something unique and beautiful, and we should take a moment to offer our gratitude for what we have been given through the blood, sweat, and the brilliance of others that have gone before.
The United States is a country unlike any other — it is founded on the primary ideal of freedom rather than on ethnic or tribal identity. Freedom isn’t an easy thing to keep.
God’s hand has been upon the United States from the very beginning, and it is good and right to give our Thanks and Praise to Him for our freedom.