This word was originally used in the context of a religious service by William Tyndale who spoke of “psalms or prayers of thanksgiving” in 1533. Tyndale is known for his translation of the Bible into English, and for such phrases as “eat, drink and be merry”, “the powers that be” and “the signs of the times”. Unfortunately for Tyndale, one of the signs of his times was the Protestant Reformation, and his opposition to Henry VIII’s divorce led to his execution.
In the years which followed, “thanksgiving” came to describe public celebrations of God’s glory, and services in appreciation of great moments such as childbirth, peace or victory in battle. English traveler John Josselyn is credited with the first use of the word in relation to the United States. In his Account of the Voyages to New England he refers to Thanksgiving as a holiday in Boston, and it was there in the English seaboard colonies that the tradition began. The first record of an American Thanksgiving Day occurred in 1621, when Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared a harvest feast in the area we now know as Cape Cod.
It was George Washington who, early in his presidency, proposed a day of “thanksgiving and prayer.” Abraham Lincoln’s employed the holiday in an attempt to hold the divided house together at the height of Civil War. In 1863 Lincoln announced that going forward the final Thursday of each November should be a day of national thanksgiving and thereby fixed Thanksgiving in its familiar place in the calendar. In similar dark times, in December of 1941 only few weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt provided some much needed national comfort and made Thanksgiving an official public holiday. The day that will be celebrated by Americans today is not only part of the legacy of their three greatest Presidents, but also an idea that has helped to bring the nation together when it was in need of unity. Thank you for reading and happy Thanksgiving.
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