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Thanksgiving Day 2015: History, Meaning, Traditions and Celebration Activities

( [email protected] ) Nov 23, 2015 01:35 PM EST
This year, Thanksgiving falls on Thursday, November 26. And while the holiday is celebrated by the majority of Americans, few are aware of the strong Christian history and meaning of this special day.
''Freedom From Want'', also known as ''The Thanksgiving Picture'' is the third of the Four Freedoms series of four oil paintings by American artist Norman Rockwell. Stock Photo/Normal Rockwell

Thanksgiving is easily one of the most recognized and observed holidays of the year, with celebrations ranging from parades and football games to family get-togethers and lavish turkey dinners.

This year, Thanksgiving falls on Thursday, November 26. And while the holiday is celebrated by the majority of Americans, few are aware of the strong Christian history and meaning of this special day. 

History and Meaning

The very first Thanksgiving holiday was celebrated in 1621 by the Plymouth settlers in Massachusetts as harvest feast thanking God for his care and provision.

These English Pilgrims left Plymouth, England on September 6, 1620, for the New World seeking religious and civil freedom, landing in Massachusetts after two months at sea. After conducting a prayer service and signing the "Mayflower Compact" - the first document to introduce self-government to the New World - they prepared for the harsh New England winter.

Sadly, half of the settlers died before winter's end due to starvation and disease. However, by persevering in prayer and with the help of Native Americans, the remaining settlers planted crops and reaped a sufficient harvest to carry them through the second winter in the New World.

The grateful Pilgrims then declared a three-day feast that started on December 13, 1621, to thank God for His favor and to celebrate with and thank their Indian friends.

While individual colonies and states celebrated Thanksgiving for two subsequent centuries, it wasn't until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

Traditions and Activities

Today, Thanksgiving celebrations often focus on cooking and sharing a lavish meal with family and friends. Traditional foods include turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, and many others.

Many churches hold services on this particular day or host free dinners for the less fortunate while some families spend the day volunteering at homeless shelters or food banks. Other traditions include watching football games or playing games as a family. 

Parades are also held on Thanksgiving Day - most notably New York City's Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, which attracts some 2 to 3 million spectators along its 2.5-mile route.

Additionally, beginning in the mid-20th century and perhaps even earlier, the President of the United States will "pardon" a turkey, which spares the bird's life and ensures that it will spend the duration of its life roaming freely on farmland, according to the History Channel.

As you observe Thanksgiving in the coming week, take a moment to reflect on the unique history of this holiday and thank God for His many blessings, care, and beneficence.

Psalm 107:29-32 - "He caused the storm to be still, So that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet; So He guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! Let them extol Him also in the congregation of the people, And praise Him at the seat of the elders."