Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving: An American Christian holiday

Thanksgiving is not just an American holiday. It is a Christian holiday.

Despite popular American nostalgia that the first Thanksgiving was held by the Pilgrims after the arrival of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock, it actually had its English beginnings along the James River at present-day Berkley Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia.

The year was 1619, twelve years after the establishment of Jamestown, when a group of thirty-eight settlers aboard the ship Margaret arrived after having made a ten-week journey across the Atlantic. Upon their landing, they knelt and prayed on the rich Tidewater soil, with their Captain John Woodlief proclaiming:

“Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for plantacion in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

As historically recorded, this event was a first English Thanksgiving in the New World.

Thanksgiving is not just an American holiday. It is a Christian holiday.

Beginning on December 4, 1619, Berkeley Plantation (Charles City, VA), celebrated an annual thanksgiving to God on the anniversary of their safe arrival in the New World.

The 1621 Pilgrim Thanksgiving in Massachusetts was a time of thanks giving to God. William Bradford wrote in his diary that their voyage was motivated by "a great hope for advancing the Kingdom of God."

Thanksgiving is not just an American holiday. It is a Christian holiday.

On December 18, 1777, at the recommendation of Henry Laurens, President of the Continental Congress, the Thirteen Colonies celebrated Thanksgiving to God for their victory at Saratoga.

George Washington declared a National Thanksgiving Day November 26, 1789, to thank God for the New Nation.

Thanksgiving is not just an American holiday. It is a Christian holiday.

Celebrations of “thanksgiving” would become a deeply rooted American tradition, usually brought on by periods of great hardship.

During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress proclaimed days of Thanksgiving every year from 1777 to 1784. Likewise, George Washington issued the first Presidential proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1789, and a few of his successors followed suit. Interestingly, Thanksgiving was not a specific day or even month, and apparently was issued on the whim of whoever was in office. Sporadically between the years 1789 and 1815, days of Thanksgiving were recognized in January, March, April, October, and November. This recognition of Thanksgiving ended in 1815 following the term of President James Madison, and a President would not issue such a proclamation for another forty-six years.

That President was Jefferson Davis, who recognized a day of thanks, humiliation, and prayer for the Confederate States of America for October 31st, 1861. Not to be outdone, President Abraham Lincoln resurrected the forgotten day in the United States as well, and issued a similar proclamation in April of 1862. In 1863, Thanksgiving was made a national holiday, and in 1866, the tradition of recognizing Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November was started by President Andrew Johnson. In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation making fourth Thursday in November Thanksgiving Day. From that time on, every sitting President has recognized Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

Thanksgiving is not just an American holiday. It is a Christian holiday.

But there were thanksgivings before the one in 1619 Virginia.

On August 9, 1607, English settlers in Maine under Captain George Popham held a harvest feast and prayer meeting on the Kennebec River with the Abnaki Indians.

On September 8, 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, a Spanish explorer, invited the Timucua Indians to dinner in St. Augustine, FL, after a thanksgiving Mass celebrating the explorers' safe arrival.

Thanksgiving is not just an American holiday. It is a Christian holiday.

The next Thanksgiving was June 30, 1564, when French Huguenot colonists celebrated near Jacksonville, FL.

The first recorded Thanksgiving was May 23, 1541, in the Texas panhandle when Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado held a service of thanksgiving for finding food, water, and pasture for his animals.

Thanksgiving is not just an American holiday. It is a Christian holiday.

As we celebrate America’s 400th Anniversary in 2007, the necessity to tell the real Thanksgiving story and its Christian roots is all the more important. In honor of those thirty-eight who arrived on the shores of Virginia in 1619, perhaps you could substitute your turkey and stuffing for Smithfield Ham and Chesapeake Bay Oysters.

Sources: Andrew Marra, Fred Taylor, Tim Manning, Jack Marlar.