Thanksgiving Day 2016: Why Do We Celebrate It?

Thanksgiving Day 2016: Why Do We Celebrate It?

Eating turkey and pumpkin pie, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day 2016 Parade, or looking at Black Friday ads. Are these some of the things that come to your mind when you think “Thanksgiving Day 2016?” For many, these images encapsulate the way we will spend November 24th, but how did Thanksgiving start and how did it become a widely celebrated holiday?

Many think of the original Thanksgiving dinner as something out of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down to share a “traditional” Thanksgiving meal, but that was not the case. After landing in the New World in November of 1620, the Pilgrims faced a trying winter, and only about half survived to the next year. That spring, the Pilgrims were greeted by an Abenaki Indian who spoke English and then introduced to Squanto (Tisquantum) of the Patuxet tribe a few days later.

The First Thanksgiving

“Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag.” ( To hear more about Squanto’s amazing Christian testimony and his role helping the Pilgrims learn to survive, I highly recommend Focus on the Family’s radio drama “The Legend of Squanto,” which can be streamed online.

Thanksgiving Day 2016 Why Do We Celebrate It tumblrFall of 1621, the Pilgrims successfully harvested their first crops in the New World! To celebrate, the Pilgrims organized a feast and invited some of their Native American allies. That first celebration looked very different from Thanksgiving Day 2016. For example, the feast lasted three days, and one of the main dishes was venison. While there is record of Governor Bradford sending men out “fowling,” there is no record of what type of fowl they brought back, though they may have returned with geese or ducks. Two years later, the Pilgrims held another Thanksgiving celebration, but Thanksgiving did not become an official holiday until much later.

The Birth of a Holiday

In 1789, President George Washington gave a Thanksgiving message in which he exhorted the people of the United States to “...unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country...” Not long after, in the early 1800s, several states instituted Thanksgiving holidays, but they were celebrated on different days. In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln established the Thanksgiving holiday as the last Thursday in November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” His words of exhortation were for those of the United States to “fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it … to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” What a beautiful way to look at Thanksgiving Day 2016 as well!

Celebrating Thanksgiving Today

This Thanksgiving, try finding some ways to share your gratitude with those around you. You can cut out leaf shaped pieces of colored paper and ask each member of your celebration to write down what they are thankful for; these leaves can be used to make a Thanksgiving Day 2016 Tree. While at the dinner table, have everyone share what they wrote down; this is something that even the young members of the family can take part in. If some members of the family are not able to join you for Thanksgiving, write “gratitude notes” sharing how you are thankful for those people.

Even amidst the ups and downs of our day-to-day lives and of our world, we can take heart in the fact that Thanksgiving Day 2016 has roots deeply set in offering thanks to God. As you make plans for your Thanksgiving Day 2016 celebration, remember to take time to thank God for the blessings in your life. Family, friends, this nation, our armed service members, our freedoms---we are truly blessed. As Thomas Ken wrote, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” 

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