Americans gather with family and friends to celebrate a uniquely American holiday–Thanksgiving! While there are records of days or moments of Thanksgiving in America held as far back as 1541, our modern observance is based on that held by the Pilgrims in 1621.

We are blessed that historical accounts of this Pilgrim Thanksgiving celebration have been preserved for us. For example, historian Benson Lossing recounted:

[T]he Pilgrims at Plymouth rejoiced in an abundance of food in the autumn of 1621, the first year of their settlement. Thereby their hearts were filled with gratitude, and after the fruits of their labors had all been gathered, the governor sent out huntsmen to bring in supplies for a general and common thanksgiving. That was the first celebration of the great New England festival of Thanksgiving, now annually held in almost every State and Territory of the Union in the month of November. Great quantities of wild turkeys and deer were gathered at Plymouth, and for three days the Pilgrims indulged in rejoicing, firing of guns, and feasting – entertaining, at the same time, King Massasoit and ninety of his dusky followers, who contributed five deer to the banquets. Seven substantial houses had been built during the summer; the inhabitants were in good health; a few emigrants from England had come in a second ship, and there were happy homes in the wilderness the ensuing winter.

As mentioned by Lossing, many states held annual Thanksgiving festivals, issuing thousands of Thanksgiving proclamations across the centuries. One of these in our WallBuilders’ collection is this 1778 handwritten Thanksgiving proclamation by New Hampshire Speaker of the House John Langdon (later to become a signer of the US Constitution and governor of the state). Clearly acknowledged in this proclamation is a strong reliance on God:

The mercies which, notwithstanding our great unworthiness, we are constantly receiving at the hands of Almighty God, ought ever to remind us of our obligations to Him; and it becomes our especial duty at the close of a year, to unite together in rendering thanks to the Divine Disposer of all good for the bounties of His providence conferred on us in the course thereof.

After America won her independence, official Days of Thanksgiving were also held at the federal level, with Thanksgiving being officially recognized as a holiday in 1863 with Abraham Lincoln’s national Thanksgiving proclamation. Among the many federal Thanksgiving proclamations in the WallBuilders’ collection is an 1887 handwritten one issued by President Grover Cleveland in which God is once again emphasized:

The goodness and the mercy of God, which have followed the American people during all the days of the past year claim our grateful recognition and humble acknowledgment. By His omnipotent power He has protected us from war and pestilence and from every national calamity; by His gracious favor the earth has yielded a generous return to the labor of the husbandman, and every path of honest toil has led to comfort and contentment; by His loving kindness the hearts of our people have been replenished with fraternal sentiment and patriotic endeavor, and by His Fatherly guidance we have been directed in the way of national prosperity.

Take time to honor God in your festivities on Thanksgiving, and read one of the many early Thanksgiving proclamations that remind us of why this holiday is so important.