Ask Father Paul – The origin of Thanksgiving


DEAR FATHER PAUL: My family moved to America and to this area from the Middle East over ten years ago. We love America and we love it here.

As I email this, it is only a few weeks until Thanksgiving 2017. Of all the many American holidays, Thanksgiving has become our most favorite.

We love the parades, the turkey and the football, but most of all we love the idea of our whole family pausing from our busy lives to give thanks to God for his many blessings. We especially like the idea that Thanksgiving in America isn’t exclusively for just one religion, but is open to all religions, including ours.

This Thanksgiving we have so much to be thankful to God for that it is truly amazing. But we are wondering. What are the origins of Thanksgiving? Can you tell us a little bit more about Thanksgiving? Thank you. Ali

DEAR ALI: Thank you for your comments and your question. Thanksgiving is, for all practical purposes, a uniquely American holiday. My research indicates that only a handful of nations on earth annually designate a specific day to thank God. I think that says a lot about America and its people. To be sure, there are parades and football, and some (wrongly, I think) have begun calling Thanksgiving “Turkey Day.”  But this Thanksgiving millions upon millions of American families of all races, creeds and religions will gather in homes all over the country to celebrate God’s blessings and give him thanks.

Indeed, Thanksgiving is an awesome event that, again, happens almost nowhere else on earth. Sometime around mid-afternoon on Thursday, Nov. 23, something will happen that uniquely unites Americans as a people. We will all sit down together as an entire nation at  feast tables to honor and thank God. The TVs will be turned off, cell phones laid aside, the young children quieted, and with hands clasped tightly to those sitting on either side of us we will bow our heads for just a few moments and say sincere prayers of thanksgiving to God.

I think God has to be pleased.

I said earlier that Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. Historians tell us that the first Thanksgiving took place in the new settlement of Plymouth, Massachusetts in October 1621 as the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest in their new American home. The celebration was said to have lasted three whole days. It was attended by 90 local Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims.  In the coming years it was celebrated in many locations throughout the colonies until 1789 when Congress requested that President George Washington issue a proclamation declaring a day of “Thanksgiving.”

Later, in 1864, during the dark days of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

According to the holy books of almost all religions, “giving thanks to God is not an option … it is a command.” From the Christian faith the Apostle Paul states in I Thessalonians of the New Testament (KJV), chapter 5, verse 18, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

So to everyone. Enjoy your turkey, football and parades … I sure will. But don’t forget to sincerely thank God who gives us life, strength and blessings. Amen, Amen and Amen.

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[Father Paul Massey is Pastor Emeritus of Church Of The Holy Cross in Fayetteville. Visit for more information, service times and directions.]