Thanksgiving’s Religious Underpinnings

This year’s Thanksgiving holiday is unlike years past. In response to the pandemic, the CDC recommends people don’t travel to see loved ones, and that they wear masks and remain socially distant at gatherings.

This is compounded by controversial guidance from governors. For example, Oregon’s Kate Brown urged residents to call the cops on neighbors for having too many guests over for dinner.

And California’s Gavin Newsom breaking his own virus rules by eating at a restaurant without wearing a mask or socially distancing.

Perhaps learning more about the history of Thanksgiving can help us understand the importance of the holiday and offer us guidance in our celebration.

The first Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth Massachusetts in 1621 when the Pilgrims—who came to the new world in search of religious freedom—celebrated their first successful harvest with the Wampanoag Native Americans.

But it wasn’t until 1863 when the Great Emancipator and 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in reverence to the divine.

John Cribb, the author of “Old Abe,” says Lincoln was deeply faithful, a regular churchgoer, and well versed in the bible. That’s despite never having been baptized and not a member of any particular church. Before Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, Cribb says other presidents like George Washington declared days of Thanksgiving, but just on occasion.

Then in 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale, an influencer and author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” started writing essays urging the country to have a national holiday of Thanksgiving instead of states celebrating on different dates.

Hale wrote her requests to presidents, starting with Zachary Taylor and finally to the “Rail-Splitter,” Abe Lincoln.