History Of Thanksgiving Day

By Ricky Cooper

This day when we all gather together seems to have lost some of the, shall we say pazazz. Now a days it seems like everyone is in a rush and can’t wait to get away from family members and hit the black Friday deals. The day of Thanksgiving like every other holiday that celebrates our Lord and Savior seems to have been misinterpreted by a lot of folks. So lets take a little walk down memory lane.

Thanksgiving day has a long and curious history and didn’t originate entirely with the Pilgrims. Thanksgiving days are mentioned in the Bible days set apart for giving Thanks to God for mercy. The days of fasting and prayer were a custom in England before the Reformation. Later the Protestants appointed certain days of praise and thanks for various blessings. The discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, in London brought the sentiment of Thanksgiving.

A scheme had been formed to blow up the parliament on November 5th, the first day that it was in session. A large amount of gunpowder and inflammable material were found concealed underneath the building. The plot was discovered and the culprits were executed. In consequence the day was ordered to be kept as a “public thanksgiving” to almighty God every year that thankfulness may never be forgotten. This day was set aside so that all ages to come would praise God’s divine majesty. All the preachers were ordered to say prayers.

This annual Thanksgiving and another that was formed later were abolished in England in 1833, because the people had lost interest. For several years these days were recognized in New England by the Episcopal church because it was on their church calendars.

The first Thanksgiving in America was held by an English preacher named Wolfall and was celebrated on the coast of NewFoundland. He had accompanied the Frobisher expedition which brought the first English colony to North America. The ship log gives the record of the day on Monday May 28 1578 and was aboard a ship named the Ayde. The men received communion and preacher Wolfall preached a sermon and gave a humble and hearty thanks to God for his miraculous deliverance through such dangerous travels. This was the first Christian sermon preached in the North American waters. In 1607, there was a similar service held at the small village of Sagadahoc on the coast of Maine.

The great American Thanksgiving day had its origin in the Massachusetts colony in 1621, and Governor William Bradford, the first governor of that band of pilgrims sent out the first Thanksgiving proclamation, setting apart a day of prayer and rejoicing over the harvest of that year. The Englishmen recalled their Guy Fawkes thanksgiving and the Dutch remembered hearing their ancestors speak of the great day of praise and prayer held at Leyden, Holland in 1578. That was when the city was delivered from siege. The entire colony began preparation for what proved to be the grandest Thanksgiving the colony ever knew. The first celebration lasted several days, the Puritan Thanksgiving meant long sermons, long prayers and long faces. Governor Bradford determined the the initial Thanksgiving should be celebrated with a large ceremony and feasting should be part of the occasion.

History tells us he sent out four men who were to kill wild game for the feast. Many wild turkey were shot, enough for the people of the colony to eat for a week. Wild turkey’s plenty-ful so it would seem that the turkey made it’s appearance early in the history of Thanksgiving. The day was December 13. At the dawn of that day a canon was fired from the hill and a procession was formed near the beach, close to where the famous Plymouth Rock sit’s. The procession was led the by Elder Brewster, carrying his Bible. The men marched three abreast. Their was a long service at the church and then a dinner like nothing every seen by the people of the colony. The feast of the day included Turkey and other wild game. The women had supplied good things from the limited supply at their command.

While the dinner was going on, there was a dramatic incident, about 90 friendly Indians under the leadership of King Massasoit appeared carrying fresh venison to add to the all ready great spread. Thanksgiving day was lengthened into days of celebration where singing and feasting mixed with war dance’s. Future Thanksgiving days took on a different aspect and occurred at any season and sometimes twice a year. They also sometimes skipped a year or two between celebrations.

In 1664, Thanksgiving day became a formal day in Massachusetts. Other colonies followed the example and soon all of New England joined in giving thanks on the same day.

During the revolutionary war, Thanksgiving day became a fashion and the continental congress set apart at least eight days during one year for Thanksgiving celebration. On December 18 1777, General Washington issued a proclamation for a general Thanksgiving to be celebrated by by the soldiers of the Continental Army. In 1789, congress decided to ask the president to issue a proclamation asking the people to stop work and give thanks on a certain day of the year. Not all wanted this, some were against it. President Washington, agreed with the congress and issued a proclamation appointing November 26 of that year as the day for the American people to join in Thanksgiving to God for the care and protection he had provided them through epidemics and a plenty-ful harvest.

Presidents from time to time issued such proclamations, but the final decision was usually left up to governors of the sates to determine what day the celebration would occur. Under president John Adams, two National days of fasting were observed, but not a real Thanksgiving. In 1815, after three national fasting days had been observed because of the war, another national Thanksgiving was observed by president James Madison. This was because peace had been reached with Great Britain. No other proclamations for Thanksgiving were issued until 1849, when president Taylor set a day of fasting in August 3 due to the epidemic of Cholera.

Thanksgiving celebrations seem to de-windle except in the New England area. Then the Civil War broke out and the nation again was asked to fast and two days were kept in 1861 (January 4 and September 26) . Not until 1863 had the conditions improved that a national Thanksgiving was designated.

After the battle of Gettysburg, Mrs. Sarah J. Hale a Boston woman wrote to President Lincoln suggesting a national Thanksgiving. He agreed and set Thursday, August 6 as a day of “Praise and Prayer”. On November 26 that year another Thanksgiving was celebrated and this was a great festival and observed in every Northern state. In 1864, the 24th of November was celebrated. After this every national day of thanks except on one occasion, has been celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

Thanksgiving day, was originally set for Thanksgiving, Prayer and religious devotions, but the modern Thanksgiving has become a day of feasting and festivities. It seems that today families spend less time in the church on this day giving thanks to him from whom come’s every perfect gift and more time watching sports or visiting relatives.

The turkey is still king of the Thanksgiving feast but several of the old customs have died away. Like the Pigeon Pie of the early 19th century. The wild pigeons which could be found in the buckwheat fields were captured with a net in the spring and kept in a cage and fattened up on grain until the day before Thanksgiving when they were killed and made into a pie.

Several other old customs that are no longer observed are the Turkey raffle with dice. Usually a turkey purchased by the owner of a saloon is raffled off to the men folk.

another was the shooting match, where live turkey’s were tied to sticks were shot at by men (remember, only head shots were allowed), but the people got to complains that the men never came to the celebration, just the shooting match so it was nixed. In the 17th century the men who found out that the venison they were eating had been killed on Sunday by an Indian had the Indian whipped and return the monies that they had paid him for the deer. After this was done, they resumed their dinner and eat all the venison

In New York, their used to be the strangest of all celebrations. The men and boys would dress themselves in bright gaudy garb and paint their faces and cover their heads in wigs and parade down the streets. in 1870 the performance took a turn and became a political parade and prizes were given to the most unique dressed person. I believe what we know today as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Hope you enjoyed a little history of Thanksgiving Day.

I’ll see ya down the Trail.

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