As a counterpart to my post on what became of Sukkot as the Christian liturgical calendar emerged out of the Jewish one, here's a little something on the secular Sukkot here in the US called Thanksgiving.
The "first" Thanksgiving -- several of them.
what! There were two "first" Thanksgivings before the "first"
Thanksgiving in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts!
The second first
Thanksgiving before the first Thanksgiving was two years earlier. On 4
December 1619, English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, roughly
20 miles up the James River from Jamestown, the first permanent
settlement, begun 14 May 1607. The ship's captain, John Woodleaf, led a
service of thanksgiving and the settlement charter directed the
date to be observed thereafter. Thereafter lasted until 1622 when
the native population, not so grateful for their arrival, forced
their retreat to Jamestown.
The first first
Thanksgiving before the first Thanksgiving was 54 years earlier.
Spanish settlers celebrated thanksgiving for their safe arrival 8
September 1565 at what is now St Augustine, Florida. This the first
recorded thanksgiving in America, but, as this was Spaniards in a
Spanish colony, La Florida, which didn't pass to English control
until 1763 or become a state until 1845, it doesn't get much
Thanksgivings were held at various times
and places in the English colonies, after the harvest, but as days of
prayer, not eating! The Continental Congress proclaimed the first
national thanksgiving, which was Thursday 18 December 1777.
The United States Day of Thanksgiving.
first national day of Thanksgiving in the United States as such was
proclaimed by President Washington for Thursday 26 November 1789. Presidents
and governors proclaimed thanksgivings off and on after that. Then starting with President Lincoln's designation in 1863 of the
last Thursday of November that year as a day of national
thanksgiving, all presidents since had year by year designated the
last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. Until FDR. In 1939
the last Thursday in November would be the 30th, and President
Roosevelt was persuaded by business leaders that a longer Christmas
shopping season -- once upon a time it was considered inappropriate
to start the Christmas season before Thanksgiving -- would help the
economy out of the Depression with more sales. So he declared
Thanksgiving the next to last Thursday in November that year.
new Thanksgiving was widely derided as "Franksgiving" -- Roosevelt's
first name being Franklin -- and had no force of law, some states
observing the new "Democrat" Thanksgiving and some the old
"Republican" Thanksgiving. A Commerce Department report in 1941 found
no significant difference in sales from the change, but, Congress
passed a law designating the fourth Thursday in November, which some
years is the last and some the next to last Thursday, as Thanksgiving
Day every year. 1942 was the first Thanksgiving under the current
law -- by which time a new world war had maybe redirected things away
from retail sales to graver matters.
You know what,
Washington didn't have a thing to say about sales, Christmas,
Christmas sales, food or football regarding Thanksgiving when
"Washington" referred to a man and not a city. Neither did President
Lincoln, whose example had been followed since. Below is the
original proclamation of the original United States Thanksgiving Day by
President George Washington. Amazing stuff. Beautiful stuff. Our
But where now among our stuff does one find that of which Washington spoke? Such as:
a duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of, to be
grateful for the benefits of, and humbly to implore the protection of,
- a duty to observe a day of public thanksgiving
and prayer for his favour, particularly in being able to form our
kind of government;
- service of a great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all good;
joining in prayers to the great Ruler and Lord Of Nations to pardon
our wrongs, to enable us to perform our duties, to make our government a
blessing of wise, just and constitutional law, to guide all Sovereigns
and Nations in good government, to promote true religion and virtue,
to increase science and such prosperity as he knows best among all
This is what Thanksgiving is meant to be.
This is what Thanksgiving was proclaimed to be. And not as a matter
of Lutheran belief, or any other belief, but as just being American,
our stuff. Yet one does not find such specific talk in the public
discourse now. On the one hand are those who think such talk has no
place in our stuff, and on the other those who think this is a
specifically Christian nation, and both equally miss what our
stuff is all about. Not to mention making Thanksgiving about a big meal, football on TV, and heading to the stores to buy stuff for Christmas, er, "holiday" presents.
May we find something of President
Washington in our national celebration in 2012 as we did 223 years
ago at the first one in 1789.
President Washington's Proclamation of the First U.S. Thanksgiving.
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.
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