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5 things you didn't know about the religious ties to Thanksgiving

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Nov. 25, 2011 at 5:25 a.m.


Millions of American families celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. Turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie are traditional Thanksgiving staples served on what is now recognized as a traditionally secular holiday. But the roots of Thanksgiving have historical ties to Christian traditions, dating to the 1600s. Here's five things you didn't know about the religious ties to Thanksgiving.

1. The original "Pilgrims," also known as Christian Separatists, departed England on the Mayflower in September 1620, searching for a new land to freely exercise religious and civil freedoms.

2. After a laboring year in Plymouth, the Pilgrims celebrated a three-day-long feast in November of 1621 with the Wampanaog Indians to thank God for a successful crop harvest and the future of the colony. This is considered the first Thanksgiving celebration.

3. President George Washington, issued the first proclamation for Americans to celebrate a day of public thanksgiving and prayer under Almighty God, on Oct. 3, 1789. The first national day of thanksgiving was held on Nov. 26, 1789. That same year, the Episcopal Church, to which Washington belonged, began celebrating an annual day of thanksgiving on the first Thursday in November.

4. On Oct. 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that later became the precedent for Thanksgiving to "set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."

5. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed several Thanksgiving proclamations during his tenure, but it wasn't until Nov. 26, 1941 that Roosevelt designated the fourth Thursday in November as a national Thanksgiving Day - to be observed in public and private prayer. His proclamation acknowledges God and the Lord as the reason for Thanksgiving and cites the Bible's 23rd Psalm in entirety.

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