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Congressional Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, set by Congress, December 18, 1777

Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States that is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. (It is similarly celebrated in Canada, although on the second Monday in October.) It is traditionally a day set aside to give thanks to the Lord for His blessings and is celebrated though feasting and prayer.[1][2][3]
Thanksgiving day is next celebrated on November 28, 2024.

Pilgrim Edward Winslow arranged the first Thanksgiving in December 1621, generously inviting the local American Indian tribe to a feast in celebration of "the bountiful harvest," which Winslow later described in his writings.[4]

In 1789 President George Washington proclaimed Thanksgiving Day as the last Thursday in November.[5][6] In 1941, the United States Congress passed a resolution decreeing that Thanksgiving should fall on the fourth Thursday of November. Thanksgiving Day proclamations have traditionally been given by the Presidents of the United States of America [7]

Although the day after Thanksgiving is not a national holiday, it is a holiday in some states and is commonly also a holiday in private business, with the notable exception of the retail industry, as the day after Thanksgiving is the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season.


Thanksgiving Day cornucopia
Thanksgiving ('House Beautiful'l

The earliest Thanksgivings were celebrated by Americans who were keenly aware that their blessings—like their rights—came from God. In times of hardship unimaginable to us today, they took time to give thanks to their Creator. The event is commemorated by a national holiday in November with its origins in Virginia at Berkeley Plantation on December 4, 1619. The first Thanksgiving was a religious celebration—an occasion to thank God—that featured only a modest meal. It wasn't until two years later, in 1621, that Thanksgiving was expanded to include a banquet by the Pilgrims in Massachusetts. Thanksgiving was the first uniquely American holiday, and it exhibited the values of what would become American values.[8]


In September 1789, Congress asked President George Washington 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 Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.” Washington complied.[9]

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. [10]


During the very heart of the American Civil War, in October 1863, President Abraham Lincoln built on President Washington's initiative and created an annual day of Thanksgiving.

Like Washington, Lincoln was determined to draw a direct tie between America and the Heavenly Creator from whom Americans draw their rights.

Lincoln acknowledged that the nation was "in the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity." But he focused instead on the nation's blessings, urging his fellow Americans to remember that:

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. 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. Let Us Be Thankful For a Land That Will For Such Religion Stand. [11]

Throughout early American history, when they suffered from drought, famine or war, Americans paused, not to seek vengeance or to question their faith, but to give thanks to God for the blessings they still had. Not only have many Americans forgotten or never learned the historic origins of our Thanksgiving—to pause and give thanks to God for our abundance—but radical secularists are intent on removing God and faith from our national life altogether. Many of the entertainment and political elite seem to be threatened by religious faith.


Thanksgiving in the United States is possibly the premier U.S. family celebration, typically celebrated at home and marked with a substantial feast. As the anchor of what is for many a four-day holiday weekend, Thanksgiving provides an occasion for family reunions, marks the beginning of the “holiday season” that continues through Christmas and New Year's Day and, as its name suggests, affords Americans a shared opportunity to express their gratitude for plentiful food and general abundance.

Many cultures traditionally have marked a plentiful harvest with a celebration of thanks. Long before the first English settlers reached North America, Western Europeans observed “Harvest Home” festivals and the British an August 1 Lammas ("Loaf Mass") Day, celebrating the wheat harvest.

However the American Thanksgiving holiday, a National Day of Thanksgiving, is unique in all the world. It was first celebrated in Virginia at Berkeley Plantation, where English colonists first held a Thanksgiving celebration on December 4, 1619, one year and 17 days prior to the landing of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts. This first Thanksgiving occurred when Captain John Woodlief led the newly arrived English colonists to a grassy slope along the James River and instructed them to drop to their knees and pray in thanks to God for a safe arrival to the New World. On this day, Dec. 4, 1619, these 38 men from Berkeley Parish in England were given the instructions:

"Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God." [1]

Journey to the New World

On August 1, 1620, the Mayflower set sail. The ship carried a total of 102 passengers, including forty Pilgrims led by William Bradford. On the journey, Bradford established a contract of "just and equal laws" for all members of the new community, irrespective of their religious beliefs. The revolutionary ideas expressed in the Mayflower Compact came from the Bible.

The Pilgrims had high regards to the lessons of the Old and New Testaments. They looked to the ancient Israelites as a positive example to follow. Because of the biblical precedents set forth in Scripture, they never doubted that the first social contract in America would work.

The journey to the New World was an arduous one. When the Pilgrims landed in New England in November, they found, according to Bradford's detailed journal, "[a] cold, barren, desolate wilderness." There were no friends to greet them. There were no houses to shelter them. There were no inns where they could refresh themselves. The Pilgrims suffered terribly during the winter of 1620–1621; half the Pilgrims, including Bradford's own wife, died of either starvation, sickness or exposure.

The following spring, local Wampanoag Indians taught the colonists how to fish for cod and skin beavers for coats, and how to grow corn (maize) and other local crops unfamiliar to the Pilgrims. The Indians helped the newcomers master hunting and fishing. Life improved for the Pilgrims, but they did not yet prosper. No matter, the Pilgrims remained faithful to God and gave thanks as a devout expression of gratitude grounded in the tradition of both the Old and New Testaments.[12]

Social Contract

The original contract the Pilgrims had entered into with their merchant-sponsors in London called for everything they produced to go into a common store, and each member of the community was entitled to one common share. All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belonged to the community as well. They were going to distribute it equally. Nobody owned anything. They just had a share in it.

Bradford, who had become the new governor of the colony, recognized that this form of collectivism was as costly and destructive to the Pilgrims as experienced during the first harsh winter. Bradford decided to take bold action. He assigned a plot of land to each family to work and manage, thus turning loose the power of the marketplace. Long before Karl Marx was born, the Pilgrims had discovered and experimented with what today is described as socialism.

What Bradford and his community found was that the most creative and industrious people had no incentive to work any harder than anyone else, unless they could utilize the power of personal motivation. The Pilgrims decided early on to end collectivism permanently.[13] Bradford wrote about this social experiment in his diary.

The experience that we had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years...that by taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing – as if they were wiser than God. For this community [so far as it was] was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense...that was thought injustice.[14]

Power of Free Enterprise

The Pilgrims found that people could not be expected to do their best work without incentive. So Bradford's community unharnessed the power of free enterprise by invoking the capitalistic principle of private property. Every family was assigned its own plot of land to work and permitted to market its own crops and products. The supply-side economics were faithfully taken from the story of Joseph and Pharaoh in Genesis 41. Following Joseph's suggestion,[15] Pharaoh reduced the tax on Egyptians to 20% during the "seven years of plenty" and the "Earth brought forth in heaps."[16] Bradford wrote on the success of capitalist principles and supply-side economics.

This had very good success, for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been."

In no time, the Pilgrims found they had more food than they could eat themselves. Because they harvested bountiful crops of corn, barley, beans and pumpkins, the colonists had much to be thankful for in the fall of 1621. English Puritans had traditionally designated special days of thanksgiving to express gratitude for God's blessings. Thanksgiving is thanks to God.

In the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony held their first Thanksgiving. They invited their Wampanoag benefactors who arrived with deer to roast with the turkeys and other wild game offered by the colonists. The colonists had learned how to cook cranberries and different kinds of corn and squash dishes from the Indians.

Many of the original colonists continued to celebrate days of thanksgiving for a bountiful autumn harvest and the blessings of freedom God had bestowed on them. President George Washington proclaimed a Day of National Thanksgiving in 1789, to celebrate the ratification of the United States Constitution. Gradually, a number of states began to celebrate an annual Thanksgiving. In 1863,during the long and bloody civil war, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November an annual National Day of Thanksgiving, to give thanks to God for the blessings God had bestowed upon the United States.

Thanksgiving is Thanks to God

Thanksgiving grace - 1942.jpg

Thanksgiving is a time for prayer, tradition and sharing. Even if they live far away, family members often gather for family reunions. As a result, Thanksgiving marks the busiest domestic air travel period of the year. Many Americans enjoy a local Thanksgiving parade, or the annual Macy's department store parade, televised live from New York City. Others watch televised American Pro Football, while all give thanks together to God for their food, shelter and other good things. Many volunteer their time to help civic groups, churches, and charitable organizations offer traditional meals to those in need.

Although the fourth Thursday of November falls on a different date every year, the president is expected to proclaim that date as the official celebration.

The Pilgrims’ triumph over starvation and disease at Plymouth Colony can be traced to something more than the charitable gestures of a few local Indians. Rather, it was their faith in Divine Providence and the blessings of God. It also involves their courageous decision to replace a failed, socialistic agricultural system with one formed by the free-market principle of private ownership of property—a century and a half before Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations.[17]

Symbols of Thanksgiving

Freedom From Want, aka The Thanksgiving Dinner, by Norman Rockwell.
  • Turkey, corn (maize), pumpkins, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce are symbols that represent the first Thanksgiving. These symbols often are depicted on holiday decorations and greeting cards. Corn, in particular, is held to represent the survival of the Pilgrim colonies. Used as a table or door decoration, corn or maize represents the harvest and the fall season.
  • Sweet-sour cranberry sauce, or cranberry jelly, was on the first Thanksgiving table and is still served today. The cranberry is a small, sour berry. It grows in bogs, or muddy areas, in Massachusetts and other New England states. It is indigenous to North America. The Indians used the fruit to treat infections and the juice to dye their rugs and blankets. They taught the colonists how to cook the berries with sweetener and water to make a sauce. The Indians called it "ibimi," which means "bitter berry." The Pilgrims preferred "crane-berry" because the flowers of the berry bent the stalk over, reminding them of the long-necked crane. The berries are still grown in New England.
  • In 1988, a Thanksgiving night ceremony of a different kind took place at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Among the more than four thousand people gathered there were Native Americans representing tribes from all over the country and descendants of the later immigrants. The ceremony acknowledged publicly the Native Americans' role in the first American Thanksgiving, a feast held to thank the Indians for sharing the knowledge and skills without which the first Pilgrims would not have survived.


Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October. Although it is an official holiday in most jurisdictions of Canada, the provinces of Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Labrador, and Nova Scotia do not recognize it.

The desire to show gratitude our Creator and Thanksgiving

John MacArthur wrote in article entitled The atheist’s Thanksgiving dilemma:

Thankfulness is one of the distinguishing traits of the human spirit. We sense the need to say thanks, and we realize we ought to be more grateful than we are. We furthermore perceive that we are indebted to (and accountable to) a higher power than ourselves — the God who made us. According to Scripture, everyone has this knowledge, including those who refuse to honor God or thank Him.

Ingratitude is dishonorable by anyone’s reckoning, but to be willfully ungrateful toward the Creator is to deny an essential aspect of our own humanity. The shame of such ingratitude is inscribed on the human conscience, and even the most dogmatic atheists are not immune from the knowledge that they ought to give thanks to God. Try as they might to suppress or deny the impulse, “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them,” according to Romans 1:19.

During a November 2009 debate in England sponsored by a rationalist group known as Intelligence Squared, Richard Dawkins admitted that when he looks at the Milky Way or the Grand Canyon, he is overcome by a profound feeling of thankfulness. “It’s a feeling of sort of an abstract gratitude that I am alive to appreciate these wonders,” he said. “When I look down a microscope it’s the same feeling. I am grateful to be alive to appreciate these wonders.”

To whom does an atheist like Mr. Dawkins express such gratitude?

I’m by no means the first person to point out this conundrum. In fact, the Internet is peppered with failed attempts to justify an atheistic celebration of Thanksgiving. Atheists insist they are not ungrateful. They confess that they feel thankful, and they clearly sense a need to avoid the ignominy of brazen ingratitude on a cosmic scale — especially at Thanksgiving.[18]

See also

Further reading


  1. (2002) The World Book Encyclopedia, Volume 7. World Book Encyclopedia. Retrieved on October 20, 2011. “Thanksgiving Day is a day set aside each year for giving thanks to God for blessings received during the year. On this day, people give thanks with feasting and prayer. It is celebrated in the United States and Canada.” 
  2. Hazel Meadows (2011). Twelve Holidays. Dorrance Publishing Co.. Retrieved on October 20, 2011. “Thanksgiving Day-a holiday set aside for giving thanks to God. On Thanksgiving Day, many people from the United States and Canada give thanks for blessings received during the year with feasting and prayer.” 
  3. (26 November 1896) The American Stationer, Volume 40. The American Stationer. Retrieved on October 20, 2011. “As a holiday Thursday will be observed throughout the entire United States, and in Canada also, as November 26 has been designated by both Governments as the day upon which the people shall unite in giving thanks to God for blessings received.” 
  5. Watts, Lathan (November 28, 2019). What George Washington was thankful for might shock you. Fox News. Retrieved November 28, 2019.
  6. Jalsevac, Steve (November 28, 2019). What George Washington was thankful for might shock you. LifeSiteNews. Retrieved November 28, 2019.
  8. Kraychik, Robert (November 28, 2019). Historian Wilfred McClay: Thanksgiving Established Fundamental American Values Centuries Before 1776. Breitbart News. Retrieved November 28, 2019.
  9. President Washington Proclaims America’s Duty to ‘Obey’ God and ‘Be Grateful for His Benefits’ CNSNews, November 27, 2008
  10. Library of Congress - George Washington Papers
  11. Library of Congress - Abraham Lincoln Papers
  12. See, I Told You So (p. 70): "The True Story of Thanksgiving."
  13. John Stossel. The Lost Lesson of Thanksgiving,, (Published November 24, 2010).
  14. Rush Limbaugh: See, I Told You So ISBN 0671871218 Chapter 6, "The True Story of Thanksgiving."
  15. (Gen 41:34) "Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance."
  16. (Gen. 41:47) "During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully."
  17. The Reality of Thanksgiving, by Mike Franc, Human Events, 11/16/2007.
  18. MACARTHUR: The atheist’s Thanksgiving dilemma, John MacArthur, Washington Times

External links