Thanksgiving Day . . . its History and Meaning (Revised)

Thanksgiving Day . . . its history and meaning is the Subject of this Big B File.

November 24th is Thanksgiving Day in the United States of America. It was a day first celebrated by the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians in 1621 when they shared a feast to give thanks of not only surviving the first year in the new world but also to the Indians who helped them survive their first year in the new world . According to Encarta® World English Dictionary [North American Edition], the official definition of Thanksgiving is as follows:

[ thàngks gívving
thanks·giv·ings Plural


  1. prayer of thanks: a prayer that offers thanks to God
  2. giving of thanks: an expression or an act of giving thanks
  3. public acknowledgment of divine goodness: a public acknowledgment or celebration of divine goodness

– Encarta® World English Dictionary[North American Edition] © & (P) 2009 Microsoft Corporation.All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

According to the History Channel website, “For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.” Lincoln did so with this proclamation (Courtesy of EWTN News):

A Proclamation.

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 unequaled 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 defence, 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, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.


Thanksgiving Day Proclamation By the President of the United States of America (October 3, 1863)

In the above proclamation, Thanksgiving Day was officially established as a federal holiday to be celebrated in the United States of America on the fourth Thursday in November. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill that made it enshrined in federal law that Thanksgiving will always be on the Fourth Thursday in November each year thereafter.

Thanksgiving Day is a day set aside for nothing else other than to be thankful for for all of the blessings that have been bestowed upon us for the past year. It seems as though Thanksgiving Day has been lost in the current culture. People seem to think that the day is just for big dinners and getting together just for getting together and watching football, losing sight of why the holiday was created in the first place as well as what the holiday itself is all about.

Unfortunately, I have noticed the same thing in the stores as well. Already in September, I was seeing Christmas decorations in the stores well before Halloween! I really have not seen much of anything, if anything at all, in the way of anything having to do with Thanksgiving (decorations, cards, Thanksgiving dinner supplies, etc.) in the stores . . . and that includes sales and specials that have to do with Thanksgiving Day.

If we were to really embrace what Thanksgiving Day is all about, the churches would be packed with people giving thanks for all the blessings in their lives and then some. You can find the readings that will be used at all Catholic Masses that will be said on Thanksgiving Day here. If you are looking for a prayer to use to give thanks on Thanksgiving Day, I would recommend the prayer offered by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB):

Thanksgiving Day Prayer

Lord, we thank you
for the goodness of our people
and for the spirit of justice
that fills this nation.
We thank you for the beauty and fullness of the
land and the challenge of the cities.

We thank you for our work and our rest,
for one another, and for our homes.
We thank you, Lord:
accept our thanksgiving on this day.
We pray and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.

R: Amen.

— From Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers.

And that is the Big B Files. Click on the comments link below and let me know what you think . . . . I’m Bryan Hewing.


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