"For flowers that bloom about our feet;
For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet;
For song of bird, and hum of bee;
For all things fair we hear or see,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee!"
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
The traditional origin of modern Thanksgiving in the United States is generally regarded to be the celebration that occurred at the site of Plymouth Plantation, in Massachusetts in 1621. This celebration occurred early in the history of what would become one of the original Thirteen Colonies that later were to become the United States. The feast was more of a traditional English harvest festival than a true "thanksgiving" observance. However, this "first Thanksgiving" was not a holiday, simply a gathering. The first official Thanksgiving can be traced back to October 3, 1789, when President 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....”
In the middle of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863:
“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God....It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens....”
- Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation
Washington, DC—October 3, 1863
And in 1941, Thanksgiving was finally sanctioned by Congress as a legal holiday, as the fourth Thursday in November.
"Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year;
to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow."
-Edward Sandford Martin
U.S. tradition compares the holiday with a meal held in 1621 by the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is continued in modern times with the Thanksgiving dinner, traditionally featuring turkey, playing a large role in the celebration of Thanksgiving. Certain kinds of food are traditionally served at Thanksgiving meals. Firstly, baked or roasted turkey is usually the featured item on any Thanksgiving feast table (so much so that Thanksgiving is sometimes referred to as "Turkey Day"). Stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet corn, other fall vegetables, and pumpkin pie are commonly associated with Thanksgiving dinner. The less fortunate are often provided with food at Thanksgiving time. Most communities have annual food drives that collect non-perishable packaged and canned foods, and corporations sponsor charitable distributions of staple foods and Thanksgiving dinners. During Thanksgiving Day families and friends usually gather for a large meal or dinner and Thanksgiving prayer.
"Without Thy sunshine and Thy rain
We could not have the golden grain;
Without Thy love we'd not be fed;
We thank Thee for our daily bread."
The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Thanksgiving is a four-day or five-day weekend vacation for schools and colleges. Most business and government workers are given Thanksgiving and the day after as paid holidays. Thanksgiving Eve, the night before Thanksgiving, is one of the busiest nights of the year for bars and clubs, as many college students and others return to their hometowns to reunite with friends and family. There are Thanksgiving parades in many cities, the biggest being in New York City, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade features floats with specific themes, scenes from Broadway plays, large balloons of cartoon characters and TV personalities, and high school marching bands. The float that traditionally ends the Macy's Parade is the Santa Claus float, the arrival of which is an unofficial sign of the beginning of the Christmas season.
The Friday after Thanksgiving, although not a Federal holiday, is a holiday for many companies, except for those in retail. It is also a day off for most schools. It is popularly known as Black Friday, so-called because of the heavy shopping traffic on that day. Another reason for the term 'Black Friday' is that many stores reach sales numbers that take them out of the red and (hopefully) keep them in the black for the rest of the fiscal year. Black Friday has been considered by retailers to be the start of the Christmas shopping season since at least the 1930s.
"So once in every year we throng
Upon a day apart,
To praise the Lord with feast and song
In thankfulness of heart."
-Arthur Guiterman, The First Thanksgiving
Happy Thanksgiving !