Thanksgiving Day in the United States

Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.  A few years back, my middle son asked how Thanksgiving was started in our country.  While we trace the origins back to the Pilgrims and have history of this celebration prior to the Revolution, these occurred when we were still a colony of the British Empire. 

The first official Thanksgiving in our country was proclaimed by President George Washington in 1789.  Washington proclaimed a “day of public thanksgiving and prayer” which was overwhelmingly agreed to by Congress.  But the holiday did not become an annual event.  Thanksgiving proclamations were made at different times by different presidents until 1814.  Also, some communities and states celebrated the day as well. 

In 1863, after the Union victory at Gettysburg, Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year old magazine editor, wrote to President Abraham Lincoln urging him to establish a national day of Thanksgiving on an annual basis.  Hale had written repeatedly to other presidents concerning this topic but with no success.  The national mood was of humble thankfulness as our country was ravaged by the Civil War.   She wrote, “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all States; it now needs National recognition and authoritative fixation, only, to become permanently an American custom and institution.” 

Lincoln responded to Hale’s request immediately and on October 3, 1863, exactly 74 years after George Washington’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation, Thanksgiving was established as we celebrate it today.  The text of Lincoln’s announcement follows:

“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. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. 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.”

The current Thanksgiving draws its roots from the trial of the Civil War.  Many years have passed since then and we are a most blessed people with many things to be grateful for.  We are thankful here at Pactola, for each of you and the opportunity we have to serve you and be served by you.

The day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday, the start of the Christmas shopping season.  We expect Christmas to cost a bit more this year.  PNC creates an annual “12 Days of Christmas Price Index”.  This sets the prices of the various gift items in the song “The 12 Days of Christmas”.  The current price for the items in the song is $39,094.93, a 1.2% increase over last year’s cost.  The index was started in 1984 when the cost was $20,069.58.  The biggest drop in the list is a 9.1% decrease in the five golden rings.  The highest increases are the ten lords-a-leaping, eleven pipers piping, and twelve drummers drumming.  All indictive of a tighter labor market!