So, this is a little late, but it's important enough that I want to make sure I write this one while it's still on my mind. I'm a little frustrated with "Turkey Day" as Thanksgiving has begun to be euphemistically referred to over the past few years. I am frustrated that this time of Thanksgiving has been turned from a time to reflect upon what God has done for us as a nation to a day of football and gluttony (both of which I enjoy, by the way). I'm glad that family is still a significant part of the tradition for most, but the God-focus of this holiday has been diminished. So, I want to share here what Thanksgiving is according to the first-ever presidential proclamation from President George Washington and then explain why this is important.
I think George Washington's proclamation stands on it's own and is not too hard to read, so here it is as he wrote it. This was copied from the Library of Congress web site. You can see a photo copy
of the original text
there as well.
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-- 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 which we experienced 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 enabled 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 hath 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 wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease 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 1789.
If some chafe under the use of God and prayer by President George W. Bush, the first Presidential proclamation ought to cause apoplexy. The first President declared Thanksgiving to be a national day of public prayer and thanksgiving to Almighty God. Note that he even offers thanks for the Bill of Rights. He seems to be comfortable with invoking God despite declaration for "religious liberty". Thus, an indication that President Washington supports the view held by traditionalists like myself that the separation of Church and State implies the State is to keep it's hands out of religion, but there's no reason why Church cannot be fully involved with State.
The main point being that the entire focus of Thanksgiving, as originally established by President Washtington, is that we need to thank God for his provision of many things and ask Him for pardon for any sins (i.e., "transgressions") we have committed against Him as a nation.
This was not the first Thanksgiving, as any first grader can tell you. Thanksgiving had been celebrated for decades in the United States according to various traditions long before the nation was even established. However, this was the first national decree in the United States. In fact, this was the first Presidential decree of any kind. Thanksgiving was the very first national holiday.
This original decree was only for Thanksgiving in 1789. It was not established as an annual national holiday until 1863 by President Lincoln (whose declaration is a further exposition on divine providence and thanks to God). The actual day was the last Thursday of November in Lincoln's precedent. President Roosevelt moved this up a bit for economic reasons. Congress, then, formally established the holiday's current date legislatively in 1941 as the fourth Thursday of November as we celebrate it today.
Thanksgiving, as celebrated in the United States, was originally established as a day to thank God. I believe this is the appropriate nature of the holiday. If you don't believe in God, who would you thank? Yourself? Your parents? Your neighbors? There's no providence, only chance and skill and why would you thank them? As such, it devolves into "Turkey Day".
I don't care how you want to tell the Plymouth Rock Thanksgiving (which really has little resemblance to the holiday we celebrate today) or if you want to say Plymouth Rock wasn't actually the first or didn't establish the tradition or whatever. All of that is irrelevant. What's relevant, is that this day was established by this nation so that the citizens of this nation may acknowledge and thank our creator for the blessings we've been provided. As American Christians, this should be our focus on this day. I do wish this would be the case for the rest of America as well, but it's free country and the rest of you can do what you please, but I hope I've at least made you aware of the intent of this holiday.