There seems to be a little debate over the occurrence of the “first thanksgiving” in the new world. Some point to St. Augustine, Florida where a thanksgiving ceremony took place on September 8, 1565 after a group of 600 Spanish settlers arrived safely. The Mass of Thanksgiving was followed by a feast and celebration.
Most Americans think of the celebration in 1621 as the “first thanksgiving,” but even that is not entirely correct. When Captain John Woodleaf led his group of English settlers to the colony of Virginia in 1619, part of the group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as “a day of thanksgiving to God.” The Charter of Berkely Hundred read,
“We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
Regardless, the “first thanksgiving” is usually not linked to 1565 or even 1619, but to 1621 after the Plymouth settlers had a successful growing season which was realized with a rich harvest. The harvest celebration that followed would be forever linked in our school plays as the “first thanksgiving.”
But it is significant to note that most of the “thanksgiving proclamations” which were issued by various governors and presidents did not link “thanksgiving” to harvest celebrations. Instead, these set aside days were days of worship and prayer. For example, read President George Washington’s proclamation of thanksgiving issued in 1789.
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 PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and 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 TWENTY-SIXTH 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 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 enable 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 has 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 wife, 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 governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase 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, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.
(signed) G. Washington
Harvest celebrations and thanksgivings have always been joined at the hip, and both have their place in the body of Christ. But, as followers of Christ, there is a crucial difference between thanksgiving in general and “Christian Thanksgiving.”
More about that tomorrow.