The Pilgrims and Native Americans did not invent Thanksgiving, but they embraced the concept and made it their own. Harvest festivals have been celebrated for thousands of years by many peoples, tribes, and nations in appreciation of the bounty produced by their hard work and stewardship of the land. America has turned the end-of-harvest feast into the holiday of Thanksgiving, marking the story of the colonials of Massachusetts and the Wampanoag people in 1621, who enjoyed peace together for a time.
Early New World settlers were happy simply to survive the weather, wildlife, insects, and poison ivy, so they understood accepting the friendship and sharing the food of the Wampanoags was a blessing.
But over the years, that all changed. European settlers overpowered the natives, driving them off their land and spreading new diseases. It didn’t take long for that early friendship to fall apart.
Politicians Impose Gratefulness
Harvest festivals continued in communities up and down the Eastern Seaboard, while colonists dealt with New World problems, especially the American Revolution. That ended with a newly created U.S. Constitution in 1789, when President George Washington issued a proclamation designating Nov. 26 of that year as a “Day of Publick Thanksgiving.”
He was imposing gratefulness as today’s elected officials today try to regulate morality. Thomas Jefferson didn’t think the new government’s federal religious holidays were appropriate in a country built in part on the separation of church and state.
President Abraham Lincoln took Washington’s proclamation and reissued something similar during the height of the Civil War. Lincoln expressed his own gratitude to God for the victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, calling upon his countrymen to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”
Traditionally, the last Thursday in November was set aside as a day of American Thanksgiving. Just be grateful for something – a bountiful crop, smart investments – and count your blessings. But then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt shook it up a bit. In 1938, FDR changed the date to the third Thursday. But no one listened; Americans failed to accept the date change, and Thanksgiving was celebrated on the fourth Thursday. In 1941, that date had to be set in stone by the 77th Congress.
Just for One Day Let’s Embrace Our Pilgrim Attitude
In 1621, folks had the right attitude. They were simply happy to be alive. They cared not about skin hue or that their culture, social norms, and gods were decidedly different. Somehow, they made it work.