The origin of Thanksgiving in the United States can be traced back to the early 17th century when a group of British Pilgrims established the Plymouth Colony in the New World. These Pilgrims, seeking religious freedom, embarked on a journey that would eventually lead to the iconic Thanksgiving celebration we know today.
Pilgrims' Quest for Religious Freedom
Seeking Refuge in the New World
The Pilgrims, also known as Separatists, embarked on a perilous journey to the New World in the early 17th century. Their primary motivation was to escape religious persecution and establish a community where they could freely practice their faith.
Distinctive Features of Pilgrim Faith
Separation from the Church of England
The Pilgrims were dissenters who believed that the Church of England had become corrupt and strayed from the true teachings of Christianity. They sought complete separation from the Church of England, including its hierarchical structure and rituals.
Central to their faith was the concept of Congregationalism, where individual congregations had autonomy over religious matters. This decentralized approach to church governance was a stark departure from the hierarchical structure of the Church of England.
Simplicity in Worship
The Pilgrims advocated for simplicity in religious practices. They rejected elaborate ceremonies and liturgical elements, favoring straightforward worship characterized by prayer, Bible reading, and preaching.
Emphasis on the Bible
The Bible held a position of paramount authority in Pilgrim theology. They encouraged individual interpretation of scripture and placed a strong emphasis on the study of the Bible by all members of the congregation.
Pursuit of a "Purified" Faith
The Pilgrims believed in the pursuit of a "purified" Christianity. Their goal was to remove what they perceived as impurities and corruptions that had crept into the Church, returning to what they considered the true and simple teachings of the Bible.
Championing Religious Freedom
Not only did the Pilgrims seek religious freedom for themselves, but they also championed the idea of religious liberty for all. They were early proponents of the notion that individuals should be free to worship according to their conscience without fear of persecution.
The First Thanksgiving
Harvest Celebration and Unity
In 1621, after a difficult first year in Plymouth Colony, the Pilgrims successfully cultivated crops with the assistance of the Wampanoag tribe, particularly Squanto, who shared essential agricultural knowledge. In gratitude for their survival and the support of the Native Americans, the Pilgrims organized a three-day feast, often considered the first Thanksgiving. This event was marked by communal celebration, featuring food, games, and prayers, as a way to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and the unity between the settlers and indigenous people.
The Evolution of Thanksgiving
From Sporadic Celebrations to a National Holiday
While the first Thanksgiving was not an annual holiday, it paved the way for the tradition of Thanksgiving in the United States. It took until the 19th century, during Abraham Lincoln's presidency amid the Civil War, for Thanksgiving to be officially declared a national holiday. Lincoln proclaimed it as a day of "Thanksgiving and Praise" to promote unity and gratitude.
Today, Thanksgiving in the United States is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. It has evolved over the centuries into a time for families and friends to come together, share a special meal, and express gratitude for the blessings in their lives. Thanksgiving has become deeply ingrained in American culture as a time of reflection, unity, and thankfulness, with its origins rooted in the Pilgrims' pursuit of religious freedom and their expression of gratitude for a successful harvest and harmonious coexistence with Native Americans.