Regardless of where we live, where we worship, how old we are or who we voted for, Thanksgiving is a day we gather with family and friends to express thanks for our many blessings. It is a celebration that is uniquely American, and one that we have celebrated for over 300 years - since before the formal birth of our nation.
The first Thanksgiving celebration is traced to 1621 in Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. After an exceptionally difficult first year in the New World, the Pilgrims overcame a lack of adequate food, proper housing and the bitter cold. Their fall harvest was a success and the Pilgrims feasted and celebrated for three days with members of the Wampanoag tribe.
Over time, a custom developed among New Englanders to mark the end of each harvest with an annual Thanksgiving celebration, as well as at other times of the year during which they wanted to give thanks.
President George Washington issued the first official proclamation calling for a day of public thanksgiving and prayer on Nov. 26, 1789. Seventy-four years later, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling on Americans to set aside the last Thursday in November each year to celebrate Thanksgiving. After the Civil War ended, Congress established Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the middle of November in order to allow one more week of shopping before the Christmas season. Many Americans protested this change in tradition. Bowing to public sentiment, President Roosevelt changed course and signed a law that officially established the fourth Thursday in November as the national Thanksgiving holiday. This law stands today.
This Thanksgiving, as we gather around the dinner table, it is important to remember the brave men and women in uniform who are spending this Thanksgiving overseas instead of with their families.
The Pilgrims came to America in search of freedom - one of the most fundamental values of our nation. Today, American troops are fighting to protect our nation and preserve our hard-won freedom. They deserve our thanks not only on special occasions, but on each and every day.
I wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving.
C ongressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's Fourth Congressional District.