This coming Thursday, we here in the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving, as we do each year on the fourth Thursday of November.
Of course, festivals and rituals of Thanksgiving are ancient, and have existed for thousands of years across many cultures and civilizations. But, we in America traditionally trace our Thanksgiving back to the year 1621, when, after their first successful growing season, the Pilgrim settlers at Plymouth Plantation celebrated a three-day feast along with members of the Wampanoag Indian tribe.
Edward Winslow, one of the leaders of Plymouth Colony, wrote of this celebration, “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor.
“They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help besides, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted.”
This feast is typically remembered as the first Thanksgiving.
After the American Revolution, the presidents of the United States often proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving, but it did not necessarily occur every year, nor was the date fixed. In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November.
Thanksgiving continued on the final Thursday of November until December 1941, when Congress established the fourth Thursday of November as the federal holiday of Thanksgiving, and so it has been celebrated since 1942.
In the proclamation of 1863, Lincoln wrote: “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…. 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.”
How important are these final words of Lincoln’s proclamation to help us remember the true purpose of Thanksgiving. It is a day of praise and thanks to our Father who dwells in heaven! When we celebrate Thanksgiving, when we count our blessings and consider all the things for which we are grateful, we must also remember to Whom we are grateful.
It is impossible to be truly grateful for what we have been given without recognizing the giver. And all that we have, we have been given.
Creation itself is a gift, born out of the generous love of Almighty God, who creates the world and fills it with blessings, all for the sake of His most beloved creature, Mankind.
The world and all its bounty and wonderful intricacy and awesome beauty, our faith and family and friends, our health and happiness and prosperity, everything down to our very lives all have been given to us by our beneficent Father Who lives and reigns forever in Heaven.
And so, this Thanksgiving, let us all remember that this day is not essentially about the good food we will enjoy, grateful as we are for turkey and pumpkin pie!
Thanksgiving is a day of joy, peace, love, and gratitude to God, Who has made us and filled us with His blessings, covered us with His protection and love, without Whom we would have nothing.
And while it is true that this year has brought challenges and difficulties for many, we should remember that Lincoln’s proclamation was written during the Civil War, when the country was torn apart by violent conflict.
In such times, it is even more important to remember the gifts and blessings that we enjoy. So this Thanksgiving, let us give thanks to Almighty God, and ask Him to help us always to live with deep gratitude for the gifts of life, love, prosperity, freedom and faith.
Father Roger Morgan is pastor of St. Andrew Catholic Church, 3501 N. Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach. He can be reached at 843-448-5930.