You are probably picturing this Norman Rockwell image in your head after reading the title of this post. That is a relatively modern Thanksgiving. The newest one is the one invented by the school in Texas which portrays the pilgrims as the first terrorists. The truth is that neither image is indicative of the original thanksgivings and if there were ever a time this country needed to rediscover the roots of thanksgiving it would be now.

Eve LaPlant wrote in the Boston Globe in 2007 that the original thanksgiving celebrated by the Puritans  “was not secular, but deeply religious. At its center was not an extravagant meal, but a long fast.”  Contrary to the newly created folk tale being taught in Texas, the Puritans who gave thanks to God for their deliverance from a harsh winter that they endured with little physical protection, sought “redemption: to examine the faults in oneself – and one’s community – with an eye toward spiritual improvement.” They were not seeking to terrorize a local population in order to conquer it. The day was not about an Indian feast, it was about a devout people’s recognition of their own faults and their drawing together to declare their mutual efforts to overcome those faults with divine protection.

The Continental Congress called for America’s first official day of thanksgiving in 1777, imploring Americans to give thanks and to offer “penitent Confession of their manifold Sins.” Washington was the first President to designate a” Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer” for November 26. On this day he declared that we should “thank God for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.”

“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 publick 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 governments, peace, and concord…”

The Continental Congress further recommended, that “servile labor, and such recreation as, though at other times innocent, may be unbecoming the purpose of this appointment, be omitted on so solemn an occasion.” They would be appalled at not only the existence of Black Friday, but its modern encroachment into the actual day of Thanksgiving forcing workers to man our stores on a day of solemn reflection.

Between the founding of this nation and 1815 there were many such calls by presidents upon  the people to spend a day in fasting and prayer.

John Adams declared May 9th 1798 a day of Public Humiliation which was to acknowledge that our safety and prosperity depend on the blessings of God.  “[T]he national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favourable to the promotion of that morality and piety, without which social happiness cannot exist, nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed, and as this duty at all times incumbent, is so especially in seasons of difficulty or of danger.”

James Madison declared January 12th 1815 a day of Humiliation Fasting and Prayer,  where Americans could express “a devout thankfulness for all which ought to be mingled with their supplications to the Beneficent Parent of the human race, that He would be graciously pleased to pardon all their offenses against Him; to support and animate them in the discharge of their respective duties; to continue to them the precious advantages flowing from political institutions, so auspicious to their safety against dangers from abroad, to their tranquility at home, and to their liberties, civil and religious; and that He would, in a special manner, preside over the nation, in its public councils and constituted authorities, giving wisdom to its measures and success to its arms, in maintaining its rights.”

Lincoln followed the tradition of drawing the nation together and redirecting their energies after a time of great internal conflict with a Thanksgiving proclamation in 1861 that has been the basis for our current traditional thanksgiving.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. … 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. 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, tranquility and Union.

I won’t spend time looking at where we veered off this course and made this a day of excessive eating in preparation for the start of the last major shopping season of the year. Suffice it to say this is a time when our nation needs to draw together again in prayer, introspection and humility, noting our many blessings and faults, and giving thanks for our divine protection. We should commit ourselves again to working on our personal morality which protects our social happiness and free government. In recognizing the division and unrest being sown into  our daily lives, we could use a leader, or many local leaders, who recognize what the old fashioned Thanksgiving was really about, who could deliver this message to the people and call them back to the one cure that has worked for this nation in the past so that “the Almighty Hand [can] 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, tranquility and Union.”

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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