Governor William Bradford declared the first Thanksgiving Day on December 13, 1621. The Plymouth Colony’s first severe winter had killed nearly half the settlers. The summer of 1621 coupled with the harvest had given them renewed hope, so they observed a day of feasting and prayer.
On November 26, 1789, President George Washington also issued a general proclamation for a day of thanks, but for many years after there was no regular national Thanksgiving Day. Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, promoted the idea for 30 years. Finally, in 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation setting aside the last Thursday of November “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.”
Presidents since Lincoln have issued official proclamations of Thanksgiving on behalf of the nation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date to the fourth Thursday in November. Congress approved this in 1941.
A nation’s strength depends on the moral and spiritual fiber of its people. As Psalm 127:1 says:
Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. ESV
Security and blessings come from God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).
That is why ingratitude is such a serious matter. It cuts us off from the Gift Giver. Paul’s description of society’s downward spiral begins with “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21, ESV).
Our country has a long history of setting aside this day of Thanksgiving. It is a rich tradition, but traditions have the danger of losing their meaning. May Thanksgiving not only be something on our calendars but also within our hearts.