Surprisingly, the first national celebration of Thanksgiving actually had nothing to do with pilgrims, turkey, or cranberry sauce. In 1789, George Washington declared that Thursday, November 26 of that year, would be recognized as a holiday of Thanksgiving. It would be a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” devoted 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.” Though first celebrated in 1789, Thanksgiving was not declared an annual holiday until 1863.
There were several individuals who passionately felt that Thanksgiving should be an annual holiday. One such citizen that was especially passionate about this, was Sarah Josepha Hale. Hale was the editor for the women’s magazine “Godey’s Lady’s Book” for almost 40 years. Inspired by the story of the pilgrims, Hale was intrigued with the idea of turning the pilgrims’ feast into a holiday. She began publishing articles with recipes for turkey, pumpkin, and cranberries. She also used the magazine as a platform to begin a campaign to persuade President Lincoln to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday.
In 1863, Hale and like minded patriots finally persuaded Lincoln, who declared that the 4th Thursday in November would henceforth be observed as the holiday we now know as Thanksgiving. In his proclamation, Lincoln said it would be “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
We often think of the Pilgrims, Indians, turkey, and pumpkin pie when we think of Thanksgiving. But our leaders who instituted the holiday did so with the intent of focusing our thanksgiving on God. May we be mindful of the One who deserves our thanks and praise, on this Thanksgiving and everyday.
“. . . In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” -Phil. 4:6