Skip to comments.Thanksgiving: Is it a Civil or Religious Holiday?
Posted on 11/24/2004 10:11:35 PM PST by Coleus
Thanksgiving FR. WILLIAM SAUNDERS
Recently, I had an argument with a friend over whether Thanksgiving was a civil holiday or a religious holiday. What do you think?
Actually, the first Thanksgiving Day observance originated in Virginia. On Dec. 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation on the James River near present Charles City. The settlement's charter required that the day of arrival be commemorated as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.
Most Americans, however, immediately associate our Thanksgiving celebration with the Pilgrims and their journey across the Atlantic on the Mayflower in search of a new land and religious freedom. After their perilous journey and with little food and supplies left, the Pilgrims arrived on Nov. 21, 1620 at Plymouth, Massachusetts. During their first year, the Pilgrims endured many hardships and nearly half of the original 100 settlers died. Fortunately, the native Indians befriended the Pilgrims. Squanto, who had learned English from traders, not only showed the Pilgrims how to grow and grind corn and how to hunt and fish in the new land, he assisted in negotiating a treaty with Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag Indians.
Gov. William Bradford, remarked that Squanto was ...a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectations. Near the time of the first anniversary of their arrival, Gov. Bradford declared a day of prayer and thanksgiving to God. About 60 pilgrims were joined by 90 Indians for this celebration. The tradition continued and spread throughout the New England colonies, although no official date of celebration was set until later.
However, we must not forget that the Pilgrims were well steeped in the bible. Gov. Bradford's idea for a celebration of thanksgiving was inspired by the Hebrew Feast of Tabernacles, one of Israel's three major feasts, also known as the Feast of Ingathering or Booths. This feast was celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishri (mid-October, five days after the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur) at the end of the harvest. The feast lasted one week, during which time the people refrained from work and recited the saving deeds of God from the Torah. They remembered their desert journey from Egypt where they had been slaves and their safe deliverance to the promised land. The people lived in booths (shelters of palm branches) as a symbol of the tents used on their exodus journey. They brought offerings of harvest fruits and new wine to the temple sanctuary to be offered each day in thanksgiving to God, remembering the Lord's care and protection during the exodus, and His pledge of future protection and good harvests.
Lamps and torches illuminated the temple area to remind them of the pillar of fire which accompanied the Israelites as they crossed to the promised land. Finally, on the seventh and last day, the high priest poured a vessel of water brought from the pool of Siloam over the altar and recited the passage from Isaiah (12:3-5), With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation, and say on that day: 'Give thanks to the Lord, acclaim His name; among the nations make known His deeds, proclaim how exalted is His name. Sing praise to the Lord for His glorious achievement; let this be known throughout all the earth''; this action too was reminiscent of how Moses struck the rock in the desert and God provided water for His people on their journey.
For the pilgrims, they must have seen the connection between their own exodus with that of the Jewish people: the flight from the land of persecution; the perilous journey through a wilderness; the divine protection of God who provided food, water, safety; and the settlement in the promised land.
As (Catholics, we too must not forget how our own religion was outlawed and persecuted in England at this time. On Nov. 22, 1633, a group of 300 colonists (one-third of whom were Catholic) set sail from Yarmouth harbor to establish the new colony of Maryland, where religious freedom for all people would be allowed. When they arrived at St. Clements Island on March 25, 1634, Father Andrew White, S.J. celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving, the first Mass in the English colonies. They also were befriended by the native Indians of the Piscataway and Yoacomaco tubes. Interestingly, these tribes believed in one true God and offered a thanksgiving ritual of first fruits at their harvest time. The Maryland colonists would continue to offer thanksgiving festivals.
After the Revolutionary War, at the request of Congress, President George Washington declared that Thursday. Nov. 26, 1789, would be for the people of the United States a day of thanksgiving: As a day of public Thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and sole favors of Almighty God. The declaration exhorted the people to Beseech Him to pardon our national and over transgressions, to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Gradually, the celebration of Thanksgiving became a more national and permanent event. In 1780, the Protestant Episcopal Church declared the first Thursday of November as an annual day of thanksgiving to mighty God. Since 1817, New York State has officially celebrated Thanksgiving Day. By 1859, the custom of Thankgiving Day had spread to 28 states. (Virginia was the first Southern state to institute the holiday.)
In 1863, President Lincoln designated the last Thursday of November nationally as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father. President Johnson in 1867 and Grant in 1870 continued the practice. The fourth Thursday of November would continue as the national day of Thanksgiving until 1939, when President Franklin Roosevelt moved it one week earlier to help businesses by lengthening the Christmas shopping period. Finally in 1941, Congress legislated that Thanksgiving would be observed on the fourth Thursday of November and would be a federal holiday.
As we celebrate this great American custom this year, we must not forget God. We should pause this Thanksgiving Day and take time to pray, reflect on our lives, and give thanks. Each Catholic should make a real effort to attend Mass and come to the Banquet of our Lord to lift up our hearts in Thanksgiving and to receive Him in the Holy Eucharist. Yes, we give thanks for the gifts of family, Church, and Sacraments. We give thanks for the loved ones who are entrusted to our care and those who care for us. We give thanks for our country which has provided such great opportunities, security, and peace. In all, we give thanks and rejoice in the Lord who has blessed each of us with so much and in so many ways.
And I bet the First Harvest in Massachusetts was in early to mid October when the crops stopped growing and the leaves started to fall. No way was it in November.
I think you have too much time on your hands Col old doggie. Your little difference of opinion doesn't even qualify as a storm in a teacup.
Correct. Then again, there is no way that our Lord was born in December either.
According to some, the first Thanksgiving was really on April 30, 1598 and it wasn't in Massachusetts.
As something of a lifelong mooch, I've had the opportunity to attend a wide variety of Thanksgivings, ranging from the deeply religious to the patentedly secular. The real question is, I believe, does the immigrant from a war torn country arriving in the U.S. have less claim to being thankful than the guy who can claim distant relations on the Mayflower?
What are you talking about?
Regardless of what type of holiday it is, civil or religious, IT'S A DAY OFF WORK! IN FACT IT'S 2 DAYS OFF WORK for many, when you count Friday as well. Plus you get to stuff your face with food and all the fixin'. So be thankful for crying out loud!
Well, you're wrong. That's not the real question. The real question is, to whom are we - immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants - giving thanks ?
However, the actual question is whether an American "Thanksgiving" was instituted and sanctioned by our Founders' traditional belief in the Almighty's blessings upon our people.
THAT answer is a resounding YES.
That's the exact question I had in mind when I clicked onto this thread.
I know Who I gave thanks to earlier, while taking a break from a wonderful task of feeding our GIs a midnight meal. And I was suprised at how MANY things I had to be thankful for this year.
If by "our people" you mean those descended from the original celebrants, then yes, you're correct. I know a few of those and they do feel a particular pride in the holiday. But I may have misunderstood you.
I mean ALL U.S. citizens and visitors who believe in the Founder's original intent of an "American" Thanksgiving praising God for His blessings.
Look, I could be wrong, but I think there are very few people who don't give thanks to god (in some form) for the freedoms and bounty of the U.S. and their ability to enjoy those freedoms and bounty. That's true for recent immigrants as well as descendents of immigrants. And that's the flip side of the coin of pondering the genius of the legal machinery that makes that possible. So, ya know, it's a pretty good idea to take a day off and ponder both.
On the other hand, the Pilgrims were deeply religious people. They probably would have seen god's handiwork in everything -- but they couldn't have imagined what was to come, i.e. Declaration of Independece, Revolutionary War, Constitution, etc. etc.
So, you can probably skip everything beyond the Pilgrims in giving thanks and just focus on them or you can give thanks for America as it now is...that's probably a private choice.
I've never seen anything the Native Americans like about Thanksgiving. Why after years, has history taught that the first settlers and Native Americans had a rosy wonderful relations and sat down to a bountiful feast? In regards to whether it is a civil OR religious Holiday? It is both they are not mutually exclusive. Calling religious is sketchy since it isn't based on anything in the bible. It is rooted in prayer though.
As to the significance of the date -- Novemeber 25, and the day, of "Thanksgiving," the die is cast.
It's tradition, legacy and meaning as an American Holiday is non-negotiable.
If you choose to ignore the significance, nobody will hold a gun to your head and FORCE you to.
I think it's probably safe to assume that Native Americans weren't thrilled with what came later. Also, and I'm not an expert, but I remember reading that they had a corresponding feast in their religion.
I didn't write that.