Sorry, this post is a week overdue: My draft failed to publish for some reason.
The last Thursday of this month is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. For the remainder of the month, my History Weekend series will explore the history of Thanksgiving. For this first post, I will look at the history of Thanksgiving as a Holiday. The next two weekends will delve into the famous harvest festival that the Pilgrims celebrated, along with the historical context of that event. So, here is the history of Thanksgiving:
On October 3, 1789, the new (and first) President of the United States, George Washington, signed a proclamation of Thanksgiving, declaring that year’s 26th of November, a Thursday, as a time to reflect on and thank the great Being (also known as the Deity) for the security, liberty, and prosperity of the United States. This was part of a tradition that the Continental Congress and Washington had followed during the Revolutionary War. Days of Thanksgiving were established annually from 1776 through 1782. One of them was issued in 1777, after Washington’s victory in Saratoga County, New York.
Thanksgiving continued to be celebrated, but sporadically. However, on October 3, 1863, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national public holiday, to be celebrated on the last Thursday of every November. Here is a quote from his declaration:
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning 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. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
From that day on, Thanksgiving has been celebrated every year in the United States. It is a harvest festival, a time for fellowship, food, and an attitude toward thankfulness. And yes, football. Football and Thanksgiving is a long tradition going back to the 1860s. In 1869, a football match was held in Philadelphia on Thanksgiving Day. By the late 1890s, thousands of games were played on Thanksgiving Day. In 1934, the first Thanksgiving Day game, a match between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears, established a tradition in which a Lions game will always occur on Thanksgiving. In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys started a similar tradition, and so now, in the three NFL games played every Thanksgiving, the Lions and the Cowboys will always take part.
- Thanksgiving (United States), accessed November 11, 2016
- Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, accessed November 11, 2016
- Proclamation of Thanksgiving, accessed November 11, 2016
- Thanksgiving Timeline (1541-2001): November 30, 1777, accessed November 11, 2016
- Christie’s Tired To Sell The Proclamation That Established Thanksgiving, Signed By George Washington, accessed November 11, 2016
- Why do Americans watch football on Thanksgiving?, accessed November 11, 2016
- American football on Thanksgiving, accessed November 11, 2016
- The evening telegraph., November 17, 1869, FIFTH EDITION, Page 8, Image 8, accessed November 11, 2016