This Thursday is the second day of Thanksgiving of 2001. Thanksgiving day in the United States is not like other national holidays, such as Veterans’ Day, or Presidents’ Day. Those are days that have been recognized as national holidays by the power of Congress. Thanksgiving becomes a holiday each year by proclamation of the President.
The first recorded Thanksgiving proclamation known was made in Charlestown, Massachusetts on June 20, 1667. The first Thanksgiving was actually years earlier, when in 1621 the pilgrims at Plymouth celebrated a feast of thanks with Indians who provided food that allowed the Pilgrims to survive through their first winter in the new land.
Thanksgiving proclamations began to become part of the tradition of our country when George Washington made a proclamation for a day of Thanksgiving in his first year as President. It wasn’t uncommon for different states to have their own days of Thanksgiving in the 1800’s, and the idea of Thanksgiving as a national day was revived with Abraham Lincoln in 1863.
It has become a bit of a custom to have our President make a proclamation each year declaring a day of Thanksgiving. This year is a little unusual in that we had our first such proclamation in January, naming January 21, 2001 a day of Prayer and Thanksgiving. Why January, and why a day of Thanksgiving?
Shortly after our new President was officially entered into office, he declared a day of prayer and thanksgiving to recognize the bicentennial of the first transfer of the power of the presidency from one political party to another. That day, almost 200 years earlier on March 4, 1801 was an important day in the history of the United States. It showed the citizens, and the world, that the new nation and its largely untried political system could survive a transfer of power to a party influenced by a different political philosophy than the one that had guided it through its first decade.
Our second Thanksgiving Proclamation this year called forth images of Eisenhower, Lincoln, and Washington – three presidents who had brought our nation through times of strife.
Thanksgiving is a little special because it is a time when our nation’s leader asks us to reflect upon the past, and hope for the future, through a proclamation. Another tradition, brought to us from the days of Lincoln is the pardoning of the turkey. The annual pardoning of the thanksgiving turkey took place in the Rose Garden this afternoon.
May we all have plenty to be thankful for.
- William Slawski