November 27, 2019
Giving Thanks and Recognizing a Shared History
At this time of year, which includes Thanksgiving, Native American Heritage Month, and National American History and Founders Month, we have the opportunity to reflect on our collective history and give thanks for the country in which we live.
The first Thanksgiving dates back to November 1621 when Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe gathered in Plymouth, Massachusetts for a three-day autumn harvest celebration. Historically, many Native American nations celebrated and gave thanks for abundant harvest seasons. In fact, the Thanksgiving holiday tradition of gratitude originates from the Native American philosophy of giving without expecting anything in return. The Wampanoags, for example, generously taught the newcomers about agriculture, fishing, and hunting.
Settlers’ traditions also included days of feasting and giving thanks. Some early English settlers were required by their charter to celebrate the day of their arrival annually as a day of thanksgiving. Over the next several decades, autumn thanksgiving festivals followed the harvest.
In September 1789, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation, designating November 26, 1789, as the first official Thanksgiving day. In particular, he called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the successful ratification of the new Constitution. John Adams and James Madison also designated days of thanksgiving during their presidencies.
It took many years for Thanksgiving to become the holiday we celebrate today. Since 2008, the day after Thanksgiving has been designated Native American Heritage Day. With the November commemorations of National American History and Founders Month and Native American Heritage Month, we honor our nation’s history, give thanks for our blessings, and have the opportunity to grow as a country for many years to come.