Thursday marks the Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving is a national holiday, first declared by President George Washington in 1789 after it was requested by the U.S. Congress.
President Thomas Jefferson made the decision not to celebrate the holiday and the holiday went in and out of fashion depending on the whims of each President until Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday in 1863, during the height of the Civil War. Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.
In 1620, a group of religious dissenters left England aboard the Mayflower bound for the English colony in Virginia, founded in 1607. En route they diverted the ship towards the American wilderness and landed near modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts to set up their own colony separate and totally isolated from the Virginians, the then dominant Church of England, and theoretically separate from England. 45 of the 102 immigrants died during that first winter, and there was only one recorded birth.
Unlike the Virginians, who quickly got into a decades-long war with the Indians of the Chesapeake Bay area, the pilgrims strived to have friendly relations with the Indians. With tremendous help from the Native Americans, the surviving Pilgrims celebrated a bountiful harvest that would sustain them for the next winter. Following the harvest, they invited their Wampanoag Indian friends to a celebration thanking God that they survived such a dangerous gamble, and the first Thanksgiving was born.
According to the colony’s governor, William Bradford, and future governor, Edward Winslow, the first Thanksgiving meal included onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, peas, corn, potatoes, lobster, bass, clams, oysters, turkey and various waterfowl. The Wampanoag Indians brought an offering of five deer. The pilgrims gave thanks to God, offered prayers and sang hymns in celebration.
In 1628, a much larger colony, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, arrived to create a “New England.” They were shocked to find the hardy pilgrims already there, cementing the pilgrims a place in the history of what would eventually become the United States.
The Pilgrims were not the first English settlers in North America. Virginia was founded thirteen years earlier and they celebrated a day of Thanksgiving in 1610. The English were not the first European settlers in North America. St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish in 1565, 55 years ahead of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth; but somehow it was the Pilgrims with their distinctive black clothes, religious fervor, turkey dinners, and friendly relations with the Native Americans that captured the national imagination.
“Thanksgiving is a uniquely special holiday because it provides us an entire day each year to pause as a country and give thanks to God for the countless ways He has blessed us,” said Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Montgomery. “The stress and craziness of everyday life often make it easy to lose sight of just how much we have to be thankful for, so as we all have the opportunity to gather with loved ones this Thanksgiving, I hope we all take time to count our numerous blessings.”
“While we have a lot to be thankful for in our state and country right now, there are also people in our district and throughout the Southeast who are in the midst of a very challenging recovery period in the wake of Hurricane Michael,” Roby, who represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District said. “During this season of Thanksgiving as you’re gathered with family and friends, I hope you will join me in prayerfully remembering our neighbors in the Wiregrass and throughout the Southeast. While the challenge of rebuilding won’t be easy, I am confident that we will get through it together.”
“In the spirit of the holiday, I want to take this opportunity to tell you that I am thankful for the responsibility to serve our state and country in the United States Congress,” Rep. Roby, who was just elected to her fifth term in the U.S. Congress said. “It is a true honor to be in a position to make a difference on behalf of Alabama’s Second District, so thank you for allowing me to serve you. From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.”
Thursday is a federal and state holiday. Banks, government offices, the postal service, most schools, and many businesses will be closed.
Original scholarship by Dr. Stan Cooke and Wikipedia contributed to this report.