Thanksgiving Days Past and Present: by Ricky Cooper

THANKSGIVING DAY, has a long and curious history and did not originate entirely with the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Thanksgiving Days are mentioned in the Bible also. These were days that were set apart for giving Thanks to God for mercy.

The days of fasting and prayer were customary in Old England before the reformation. Later the Protestants appointed certain days of praise and thanks for various blessings. The discovery of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in London brought common sentiment of Thanksgiving. So, you may ask, What was the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 ?. Some people had devised a scheme to blow up the parliament house on the 5th of November. This would have been the first day of the new session of parliament.

Large quantities of gunpowder and flammable material was found concealed underneath the building. Lucky the plot was discovered before hand and the traitors were executed for their dangerous deeds. In consequence of this, the day was ordered to be kept as “A Public Thanksgiving to the Almighty God”.

The annual Thanksgiving was established later on May 29 1605, but was abolished in 1838 in England. The reason, people had become bored or maybe had forgotten what they should be thankful for. For several years after these days were recognized in New England by the Episcopal church. England, continued to have special days appointed for giving thanks and by 1872 there was a day for the public to offers prayers of Thanksgiving. This was done in part for the recovery of the late King Edward, the Prince of Wales who had typhoid fever.

The first Thanksgiving on the American continent, was held by a English minister named Wolfall and was celebrated off the coast of New-Foundland. Wolfall, had accompanied the Frobisher Expedition which brought the first English colony to North America. The log (or manifest) of the ship gives the record of the day and tells how on Monday, May 28, 1578 the men aboard the ship named the Ayed received communion and Wolfall in a sermon gave a humble and hearty thanks to God for the miraculous deliverance he had given them to a new world.

The sermon by Wolfall, was the first Christian sermon preached in North America. In 1607, there was a similar service held at Sagadahoc a little village on the coast of Maine. From what is known about this service, is that it only lasted a few hours and then the people returned to their work.

The Great American Thanksgiving day, had it’s origin in the Massachusetts colony of 1621. The Governor William Bradford, the first Governor of the band of Pilgrims sent out the very first Thanksgiving day Proclamation. He set the day as a day of prayer and rejoicing over the abundance of the harvest of crops for the year. The English also had their Guy Fawkes Thanksgiving and the Dutch remembered that their ancestors had spoke of the great day of prayer held at Leyden, Holland in 1578. They had praised God for the deliverance from a siege. The entire colony came together in preparation for a grand day for what proved to be the most jovial day of Thanksgiving the colony ever knew. The first Thanksgiving lasted several days. The Puritan Thanksgiving meant long sermons and long prayers.

Governor Bradford decided that the first Thanksgiving should be celebrated with lot’s of feasting and little ceremony. History tells us that he sent out four men to search for wild game for the feast. These men shot enough fowl to last the colony for a week. Not wanting to waste any of the harvest game, they celebrated until it was all gone. Wild Turkey was the predominate fowl harvested, so it became synonyms with Thanksgiving.

The day selected for Thanksgiving was December 13. At dawn of that day, a small cannon sitting on a hill nearby was fired and a procession was formed near the beach. (close to what we know as Plymouth Rock today). A minister wearing his ministerial garb and carrying a bible led the procession along the main street. The men walked three abreast with the Governor in the rear. There would be a long service at the church and afterwards a dinner like no other. They had Wild Turkey and other fowl and the women had provided tasty deserts. Once in the middle of the dinner, 90 men under the command of King Massasoit appeared with lots of Venison as a addition to the feast.

Thanksgiving day, soon stretched out of several days of celebration. In the years later, Thanksgiving days were celebrated several times a year, no matter the season. Occasionally a year or two was skipped. Then in 1664, Thanksgiving day became a formal day in Massachusetts and soon other colonies followed suit. Pretty soon all of New England had joined in giving thanks on the same day.

During the Revolutionary War, Thanksgiving days became a fashion and the continental congress set aside at least eight days during one year for the purpose of Thanksgiving. On December 18, 1777 General George Washington issued the proclamation that the soldiers of the continental army would celebrate Thanksgiving. In 1789, Congress asked the president to issue a proclamation asking the people to suspend work and give thanks on a certain day of the year. President Washington appointed the day of November 26 as the day for the American people to join in Thanksgiving to God for the care and protection he had given them and for their plentiful harvest and freedom.

Throughout early history, presidents issued proclamations but generally the Governor’s of the sates determined on what day Thanksgiving would be observed. President John Adams, had two National fast days but not a Thanksgiving. In 1815, after three National fasts because of the war another National Thanksgiving was appointed by President James Madison. This was because peace had been reached with Great Britain. In 1849, President Taylor set a day of fasting on August 3rd because of Cholera. During this time, Thanksgiving was not widely celebrated except in the New England states.

When the American Civil War began, two days of fasting were kept in 1861. They were January 4 and September 26. In 1863, after the battle of Gettysburg, Sarah j Hale, a woman from Boston wrote to President Lincoln suggesting a National Thanksgiving. President Lincoln, set August 6 as a day of praise and prayer. Then on November 26 of the same year, another Thanksgiving was celebrated. This date was celebrated by every Northern state and was a great festival. In 1864, the 24th of November was celebrated as Thanksgiving day. After this with only one exception, the last Thursday of November has been recognized as the National Thanksgiving day.

Thanksgiving day was originally set as a day thanksgiving, fasting prayer and religious devotions. The modern Thanksgiving has become a day of feasting and festivities. The turkey is still the king of the Thanksgiving feast. But there are other old recipes that seem to have been forgotten. Like the Pigeon Pie, which was poplar during the nineteenth century. The wild pigeons of the wheat fields would be captured by net and caught by the hundreds. They would be kept alive and fattened on grain until the day before Thanksgiving and then made into a pie.

Most of the old customs of the day are forgotten, such as the turkey raffle with dice. Usually the turkey is old and tough and purchased on the cheap. the owner of a saloon would have the raffle and of course it drew all the men with the excuse of trying to win the turkey. Another custom was the Shooting match. Live turkey’s were tied to sticks and each man could attempt to kill it. This practice was later abandoned because the Preachers complained. Oh’ not because of the brutality but because it kept the men from attending church they said.

During a Thanksgiving celebration in the seventeenth century the men discovered the venison they were enjoying was killed on a Sunday. They had the Indian public whipped and made him return the money that they had payed for the venison and then returned to eating the venison.

Thanksgiving has always been a day of charity and in the old days it was considered bad luck to turn away anyone from the door.

The customs of the great national holiday may have changed, yet the spirit of the first Thanksgiving held at Plymouth in 1621, still remains about the national day of prayer and praise in this century.

I hope that you will join me and praying that a spirit of thankfulness to God for his mercy and kindness to the people of our great nation will be celebrated in his honor for as long as their is life on this earth.

God Bless

Ricky Cooper

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