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Guest Column: Thanksgiving, how did it all begin?

Thanksgiving, stock photo. // Pixabay

Guest column submitted by Michael Bullington–
I’m going to guess that most of us in Citrus Heights will be celebrating Thanksgiving this Thursday. But where did this tradition come from?

Michael Bullington
Michael Bullington

Some historians point to a day of fasting and thanksgiving in 1621 following the settlement at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts by Puritans and Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution in England. A favorable harvest after a harsh winter prompted a day dedicated to fasting and thanksgiving, in accordance with traditions they had practiced in England and Holland.

Others attribute the holiday to the 1619 arrival of 38 English settlers at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia, under the charter of the London Company. The Virginia settlers marked their arrival with a religious celebration, in fulfillment of their charter, which specifically required “that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned … in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

Over a century later, a day of thanksgiving was officially proclaimed by George Washington to occur on Nov. 26, 1789, marking it “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.” This followed the ratification of our Constitution a year earlier, after ten months of effort to garner the necessary three-fourth’s majority of the states, and his election as our first president in the same year.

The establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday did not gain traction until the middle of the Civil War, when Lincoln proposed dedicating the last Thursday in November of each year, in an effort to bring our war-torn country together. His proposal was not adopted until about a decade after his death, due first to the war and later to Southern opposition during Reconstruction, which ended in the mid-1870’s.

Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of a widely circulated women’s magazine in the mid-1800s, is credited as the driving force behind the establishment of the national holiday, as the result of a four-decade letter writing campaign to our government. President Franklin D. Roosevelt later modified the established date for the holiday to be the fourth Thursday in November, effective in 1941, just prior to our entry into World War II.

Two decades later, President John F. Kennedy addressed the discrepancy in regional claims between Massachusetts and Virginia about the origin of the traditional thanksgiving celebration by issuing Proclamation 3560 on Nov. 5, 1963, stating, “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together, and for the faith which united them with their God.”

Michael Bullington is a history buff and 34-year resident of Citrus Heights. He also represents Guardian Life Insurance Company of America and Park Avenue Securities, LLC.

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