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Thanksgiving – What do we really know about it?
November 13, 2008 - Sunny Day
We’ve learned quite a few things about this holiday, that we were not aware of – given that in my day the schoolmasters taught that the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock and subsequently had the first Thanksgiving with Cpt. John Smith and Indians. Okay, so maybe I wasn’t paying close attention when I should have been, but some interesting facts have come to my attention and I want to share them here.
The first recorded Thanksgiving ceremony took place on September 8, 1565. 600 Spanish settlers, lead by Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed at what we now know as St. Augustine, Florida. They immediately held a Mass of Thanksgiving for their safe arrival in the New World. This mass was followed by a celebration and feast. Because this colony did become part of the United States, technically it was the first Thanksgiving!
The Pilgrims did not hold a “real” Thanksgiving until 1623. That was a time of drought and prayers and petitions for rain were answered. Thanksgivings were intermittently held after good times or events and days of fasting & prayer after bad times. Interestingly enough, the Plymouth tradition set forth that a thanksgiving day was a church observance rather than a feast day.
While an annual thanksgiving did not occur on any particular day or the same day in the various American colonies, it did become an annual event.
Abraham Lincoln actually established Thanksgiving as the final Thursday in November. In 1939 FDR changed that because that year November had five Thursdays – Roosevelt declared the 4th Thursday Thanksgiving rather than the 5th one. In 1940 November had four Thursdays and he declared the 3rd one as Thanksgiving. He made it clear that he wanted to establish it on the next-to-last Thursday of the month. The country was still in the midst of the depression and FDR believed that an earlier Thanksgiving would give merchants more time to sell goods for Christmas. By increasing profits and spending, he hoped that this move would help to bring the country out of the depression - this move was based on the "old time" belief and practice that advertising goods for Christmas before Thanksgiving was inappropriate!
In 1941 Congress passed a bill requiring Thanksgiving be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November. FDR signed that bill on December 26th which made the date of Thanksgiving federal law.As we’ve mentioned, Thanksgiving was originally a religious observance for everyone to give thanks to God for a common purpose. That tradition continues today in various forms. However, it underscores the very roots of our nation in the giving of thanks to God who has blessed us so abundantly. Thankfully, our government was not "politically correct" in those years by passing a federal law to create a religious holiday.
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