The origins of Thanksgiving in the United States, of course, go back to the 1621 celebration in Plymouth Colony. There is a lot we get wrong about that story, and it did not lead to an immediate annual observance. But it stood in a great tradition of harvest festivals common to Great Britain and other European countries who colonized the New World: both the Spanish and French conducted thanksgivings in the 16th century, and English settlers in Jamestown held a thanksgiving in 1610.
The concept continued in the colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated days of thanksgiving. In 1789, President George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government designating it to be held on Thursday, November 26.
But it was not until 1846 that Sarah Josepha Hale began a campaign to make Thanksgiving a permanent, national holiday. She wrote letters to politicians, editorials, and articles, arguing that it would have a unifying effect that would ease growing sectional tensions.
On October 3, 1863, her efforts finally prompted President Abraham Lincoln to issue a proclamation that ultimately led to Thanksgiving being established as a national holiday. I have reprinted it here, not only because it is of historical interest, but because it was written in extremely trying times. Reflect on what it has to say about all the blessings God has bestowed upon us—a deeply Biblical concept—and realize that in our own troubling days, we still have so much for which to be grateful. Happy Thanksgiving. -BP
By the President of the United States
The year that is drawing toward 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 even soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.