November 25 is Thanksgiving Day in America this year, but the United States isn’t the only country that sets aside a day for thanks and blessings for the harvest. There are similar national Thanksgiving holidays and observances in countries around the globe, including Canada, Brazil, and Australia, to name only a few.
In the U.S. our Thanksgiving observation is linked to the experiences of the first English pilgrims who came to North America in 1619. Those settlers endured a rough winter and many hardships, and tradition has it they celebrated their first harvest by sharing a meal with the Native Americans who helped them survive.
American colonists held Thanksgiving feasts throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, and in 1789 President George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration on November 26.
Thanksgiving in the U.S. continued as a fall harvest tradition, though the dates varied from state to state. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, to be held on the last Thursday in November. Because the Civil War was being fought at the time, the nationwide holiday wasn't actually celebrated till the 1870s, after Reconstruction ended.
The next president to weigh in on Thanksgiving was Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), who signed a proclamation fixing the date for the national holiday on the next to last Thursday in November.
Then on December 26, 1941, Congress passed a joint resolution, again signed by FDR, moving the national Thanksgiving holiday to the fourth Thursday in November, where it's been ever since.
History buffs might recall that only a few weeks before the resolution passed, the U.S. entered World War II, following Japan's December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor. You'd think that Thanksgiving would be the last thing on congressional minds in late December that year.
But I think there's a lesson in that 1941 proclamation, with its focus on gratitude even in the midst of a terrible war. It's important to take time to reflect on what to be thankful for rather than what's wrong, no matter how bad things seem.
In searching for quotes about Thanksgiving, I came across this one from the 13th century Persian poet Rumi: “Wear gratitude like a cloak, and it will feed every corner of your life.”
I think that sums up the spirit of the holiday nicely.