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Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is a public holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November[1] in the United States. It originated as a harvest festival. Thanksgiving has been celebrated nationally on and off since 1789, after Congress requested a proclamation by George Washington.[2] It has been celebrated as a federal holiday every year since 1864, when, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens," to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.[3][4] Together with Christmas and the New Year, Thanksgiving is a part of the broader fall/winter holiday season.

The event that Americans commonly call the "First Thanksgiving" was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in October 1621.[5] This feast lasted three days, and—as accounted by attendee Edward Winslow[6]—it was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims.[7] The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating "thanksgivings"—days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drough

 

Thanksgiving grace 1942.jpg
Prayer before carving a turkey at Thanksgiving dinner in Neffsville, Pennsylvania, 1942
Observed by United States
Type National
Celebrations Giving thanks, prayer, feasting, spending time with family, football games, parades
Date Fourth Thursday in November
Frequency Annual
Related to Thanksgiving in Canada
Thanksgiving in Norfolk Island
Thanksgiving in Liberia
Thanksgiving in Leiden, Netherlands
Thanksgiving in Saint Lucia

 

History

Early thanksgiving observances

 
Shrine of the first U.S. Thanksgiving in 1619 at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia

Setting aside time to give thanks for one's blessings, along with holding feasts to celebrate a harvest, are both practices that long predate the European settlement of North America. The first documented thanksgiving services in territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards[9][10] and the French[11] in the 16th century. Wisdom practices such as expressing gratitude, sharing, and giving away, are an integral part of indigenous communities since time immemorial.

Thanksgiving services were routine in what became the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607,[12] with the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia holding a thanksgiving in 1610.[9] In 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia. The group's London Company charter specifically required "that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned... in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."[13][14] Three years later, after the Indian massacre of 1622, the Berkeley Hundred site and other outlying locations were abandoned and colonists moved their celebration to Jamestown and other more secure spots.

External video
Wampanoag2.jpg
 The True Story of the First ThanksgivingAmerican ExperiencePBS, November 24, 2015 [15]

Harvest festival observed by the Pilgrims at Plymouth

Americans also trace the Thanksgiving holiday to a 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Plantation, where the settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. Autumn or early winter feasts continued sporadically in later years, first as an impromptu religious observance and later as a civil tradition.

Squanto, a Patuxet Native American who resided with the Wampanoag tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn and served as an interpreter for them. Squanto had learned the English language during his enslavement in England. The Wampanoag leader Massasoit had given food to the colonists during the first winter when supplies brought from England were insufficient.

The Pilgrims celebrated at Plymouth for three days after their first harvest in 1621. The exact time is unknown, but James Baker, the Plimoth Plantation vice president of research, stated in 1996, "The event occurred between Sept. 21 and Nov. 11, 1621, with the most likely time being around Michaelmas (Sept. 29), the traditional time."[16] Seventeenth-century accounts do not identify this as a thanksgiving observance, rather it followed the harvest. It included 50 persons who were on the Mayflower (all who remained of the 100 who had landed) and 90 Native Americans.[16] The feast was cooked by the four adult Pilgrim women who survived their first winter in the New World (Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth HopkinsMary Brewster, and Susanna White), along with young daughters and male and female servants.[16][17]

 
"Pilgrims" are often confused with "Puritans". This sculpture The Pilgrim by Augustus St. Gaudens is based on his earlier work The Puritan

Two colonists gave personal accounts of the 1621 feast in Plymouth. The Pilgrims, most of whom were Separatists (English Dissenters), are not to be confused with Puritans, who established their own Massachusetts Bay Colony on the Shawmut Peninsula (current day Boston) in 1630.[18][19] Both groups were strict Calvinists, but differed in their views regarding the Church of England. Puritans wished to remain in the Anglican Church and reform it, while the Pilgrims wanted complete separation from the church.

William Bradford, in Of Plymouth Plantation wrote:

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they can be used (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.[20]

 
The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899). The painting shows common misconceptions about the event that persist to modern times: Pilgrims did not wear such outfits, and the Wampanoag are dressed in the style of Native Americans from the Great Plains.[21]

Edward Winslow, in Mourt's Relation wrote:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.[22]

 
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, oil on canvas by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe(1914)

The Pilgrims held a true thanksgiving celebration in 1623[23][24] following a fast,[25] and a refreshing 14-day rain[26] which resulted in a larger harvest. William DeLoss Love calculates that this thanksgiving was made on Wednesday, July 30, 1623, a day before the arrival of a supply ship with more colonists,[25] but before the fall harvest. In Love's opinion this 1623 thanksgiving was significant because the order to recognize the event was from civil authority[27] (Governor Bradford), and not from the church, making it likely the first civil recognition of Thanksgiving in New England.[25]

Referring to the 1623 harvest after the nearly catastrophic drought, Bradford wrote:

And afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing. For which mercy, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving… By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine now God gave them plenty … for which they blessed God. And the effect of their particular planting was well seen, for all had … pretty well … so as any general want or famine had not been amongst them since to this day.[28]

These firsthand accounts do not appear to have contributed to the early development of the holiday. Bradford's "Of Plymouth Plantation" was not published until the 1850s. While the booklet "Mourt's Relation" was summarized by other publications without the now-familiar thanksgiving story. By the eighteenth century the original booklet appeared to be lost or forgotten. A copy was rediscovered in Philadelphia in 1820, with the first full reprinting in 1841. In a footnote the editor, Alexander Young, was the first person to identify the 1621 feast as the first Thanksgiving.[29]

According to historian James Baker, debates over where any "first Thanksgiving" took place on modern American territory are a "tempest in a beanpot".[29] Jeremy Bang claims, "Local boosters in VirginiaFlorida, and Texas promote their own colonists, who (like many people getting off a boat) gave thanks for setting foot again on dry land."[30]Baker claims, "the American holiday's true origin was the New England Calvinist Thanksgiving. Never coupled with a Sabbath meeting, the Puritan observances were special days set aside during the week for thanksgiving and praise in response to God's providence."[29]

Nevertheless, President John F. Kennedy, in an attempt to strike a compromise between the regional claims, issued Proclamation 3560 on November 5, 1963 stating, "Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God."[31]

Other coloniel

Thanksgiving was celebrated in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for the first time in 1630, and frequently thereafter until about 1680, when it became an annual festival in that colony.[citation needed] Thanksgiving was celebrated in the Connecticut Colony as early as 1639 and annually after 1647, except in 1675.[citation needed] The colonists of New Netherland appointed a day for giving thanks in 1644 and occasionally thereafter.[citation needed]

In the 18th century, individual colonies would periodically designate a day of thanksgiving at different times of the year in honor of a military victory, an adoption of a state constitution or an exceptionally bountiful crop.[citation needed]

The Revolutionary War to nationhood

During the American Revolutionary War the Continental Congress appointed one or more thanksgiving days each year, each time recommending to the executives of the various states the observance of these days in their states.

The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by the Continental Congress in 1777 from its temporary location in York, Pennsylvania, while the British occupied the national capital at Philadelphia. Delegate Samuel Adams created the first draft. Congress then adapted the final version:

For as much as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these United States to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth Day of December next, for Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please God through the Merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, Independence and Peace: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth "in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.

And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.

George Washington, leader of the revolutionary forces in the American Revolutionary War, proclaimed a Thanksgiving in December 1777 as a victory celebration honoring the defeat of the British at Saratoga.

Thanksgiving proclamations in the first thirty years of nationhood

Cursive document of George Washington's October 3, 1789, Thanksgiving Day Proclamation
George Washington's 1795 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation
George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1789 (top) and 1795

The Continental-Confederation Congress, the legislative body that governed the United States from 1774 to 1789, issued several "national days of prayer, humiliation, and thanksgiving",[32] a practice that was continued by Presidents Washington and Adams under the Constitution, and has manifested itself in the established American observances of Thanksgiving and the National Day of Prayer today.[33] This proclamation was published in The Independent Gazetteer; or, the Chronicle of Freedom on November 5, 1782, the first being observed on November 28, 1782:

By the United States in Congress assembled, PROCLAMATION.

It being the indispensable duty of all nations, not only to offer up their supplications to Almighty God, the giver of all good, for His gracious assistance in a time of distress, but also in a solemn and public manner, to give Him praise for His goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of His Providence in their behalf; therefore, the United States in Congress assembled, taking into their consideration the many instances of Divine goodness to these States in the course of the important conflict, in which they have been so long engaged, – the present happy and promising state of public affairs, and the events of the war in the course of the year now drawing to a close; particularly the harmony of the public Councils which is so necessary to the success of the public cause, – the perfect union and good understanding which has hitherto subsisted between them and their allies, notwithstanding the artful and unwearied attempts of the common enemy to divide them, – the success of the arms of the United States and those of their allies, – and the acknowledgment of their Independence by another European power, whose friendship and commerce must be of great and lasting advantage to these States; Do hereby recommend it to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe and request the several states to interpose their authority, in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the TWENTY-EIGHTH DAY OF NOVEMBER next as a day of SOLEMN THANKSGIVING to GOD for all His mercies; and they do further recommend to all ranks to testify their gratitude to God for His goodness by a cheerful obedience to His laws and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.

Done in Congress at Philadelphia, the eleventh day of October, in the year of our LORD, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two, and of our Sovereignty and Independence, the seventh.

JOHN HANSON, President. CHARLES THOMSON, Secretary.[32]

On Thursday, September 24, 1789, the first House of Representatives voted to recommend the First Amendment of the newly drafted Constitution to the states for ratification. The next day, Congressman Elias Boudinot from New Jersey proposed that the House and Senate jointly request of President Washington to proclaim a day of thanksgiving for "the many signal favors of Almighty God". Boudinot said that he "could not think of letting the session pass over without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining, with one voice, in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings he had poured down upon them."[34]

As President, on October 3, 1789, George Washington made the following proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.[35]

George Washington again proclaimed a Thanksgiving in 1795.

President John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799. No Thanksgiving proclamations were issued by Thomas Jefferson but James Madison renewed the tradition in 1814, in response to resolutions of Congress, at the close of the War of 1812. Caleb Strong, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, declared the holiday in 1813, "for a day of public thanksgiving and prayer" for Thursday, the 25th of November of that year.[36]

Madison also declared the holiday twice in 1815; however, none of these was celebrated in autumn. In 1816, Governor Plumer of New Hampshire appointed Thursday, November 14 to be observed as a day of Public Thanksgiving and Governor Brooks of Massachusetts appointed Thursday, November 28 to be "observed throughout that State as a day of Thanksgiving".[37]

A thanksgiving day was annually appointed by the governor of New York from 1817.[citation needed] By 1858 proclamations appointing a day of thanksgiving were issued by the governors of 25 states and two territories.[citation needed]

Lincoln and the Civil War

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