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Thanksgivings 1621-2011 (Thoughts On This 390th Anniversary)

Updated on October 31, 2011

November of 1621 saw the first Thanksgiving we now celebrate annually in America and Canada. That first American Thanksgiving saw the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts, together with their Indian allies, expressing thanks for so many blessings today's Americans and Canadians tend to take for granted, such as living in North America where we are free to assemble, free to worship according to the dictates of or own conscience, able to go to a store and stock up on our choice of the world's foods, likely to be living in warm and comfortable quarters, and free from the drudgeries of doing laundry by hand, hauling water and firewood, having to hunt and fish for fresh foods, and vigilantly protecting ourselves and our supplies lest we perish.

December 1777 the Continental Congress invited the several states of what is now the United States to observe Thursday, December 17, 1777 as a day of "Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise" and gave the reasons for such a day in Christian religious terms. Sadly, for many Americans today, such an expression of religious devotion, thanks, and praise, with any sectarian religious appeal, could result in legal action from persons and groups who would cite the United States Constitution signed almost 10 years later on September 17, 1787. A Congressional invitation couched in those Christian terms today, would likely lead to a legal contest in our nation's courts, and have a less than uncertain outcome! Even in the early 19th Century there were already protests that formal "days of Thanksgiving" were simply based on beliefs intolerant of the beliefs of other religions.

November 1863 saw a day of Thanksgiving which was declared by Abraham Lincoln the month before. Lincoln was not the first president to declare a day of Thanksgiving. George Washington was the first, followed by Adams, and Madison. State governors, beginning with the governors of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, declared such days for their states as early as 1816, and the governor of New York made them annual days of Thanksgiving beginning in 1817. Lincoln's 1863 proclamation referred to "...the ever watching providence of Almighty God ,,,]the Most High God."

Similarly, wars and the conclusion of wars seem always to have been a reminder and cause for a national day of Thanksgiving. The Armistice ending World War I was signed on November 11, 1918. The American president then was Woodrow Wilson. In declaring Thursday November 28, 1918 a day of national Thanksgiving, he began his proclamation with these words: "It has long been our custom to turn in the autumn of the year in praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God for His many blessings and mercies to us as a nation. This year we have special and moving cause to be grateful and to rejoice. God has in His good pleasure given us peace."

By then Thanksgiving proclamations had become annual, but it was not until the beginning of a war, World War II (1941) that Thanksgiving became the national holiday of Thanksgiving in America. In 1943's proclamation President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed: "Let us ask the Divine Blessing on our decision and determination to protect our way of life against the forces of evil and slavery which seek in these days to encompass us. On the day appointed for this purpose, let us reflect at our homes or places of worship on the goodness of God and, in giving thanks, let us pray for a speedy end to strife and the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice for enduring time."

This Year may we each, again in our own way and wherever we may be, here or in foreign lands, pause to reflect on our own blessings, their source, and their importance in our lives. Let us reflect on these other Thanksgiving times and their meaning, the sacrifices others have made along the way, and the difference those sacrifices have meant for our way of life this Thanksgiving..

Would you say that you celebrate a traditional American or Canadian Thanksgiving?

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