Newt Gingrich Commentary: Thanksgiving, an American Tradition

by Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich and Speaker Newt Gingrich


Thanksgiving means a lot more than turkey, cranberries, and pumpkin pie.

More than 401 years ago, courageous pilgrims set sail across the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower to start a new life in North America.  They arrived at Plymouth on November 11, 1620, after a dangerous crossing and founded a new settlement where they could practice their faith freely.

In Plymouth, these pilgrims agreed on how this new settlement would be governed. Their historic covenant began, “In the name of God, Amen.” Today, we know this agreement as the Mayflower Compact.

In November 1621, the newly arrived pilgrims and the Wampanoag people gathered at Plymouth for a harvest celebration, in thanks for having survived the brutal winter – an event regarded as America’s “first Thanksgiving.”

Our earliest evidence of this comes from the journal of pilgrim William Bradford, who wrote of a “great store of wild turkeys” which were shared between the pilgrims and the Native Americans who lived in the Plymouth Rock area.

The first National Day of Thanksgiving was recommended by the first Congress on September 28, 1789 and pronounced by President George Washington a few days later.

Thanksgiving as we know it today was established and signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941.

Since the autumn of 1621, this tremendous act of faith has been repeated by millions who have come to America to join and participate in this incredible experiment in freedom and opportunity.

Despite many challenges, we remain blessed to live in the freest, strongest, and most prosperous nation on earth. We have so much for which to be thankful.

We wish you a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

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To read, hear, and watch more of Newt’s commentary, visit
Photo “The First Thanksgiving” by Wikimedia Commons.






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One Thought to “Newt Gingrich Commentary: Thanksgiving, an American Tradition”

  1. John Bumpus

    Whoa now, Tennessee Star! The FIRST Thanksgiving in North America was in VIRGNIA, not that other place several hundred miles to the north known for its snow and ice, high taxes, and smelly fish.

    But all ‘kidding’ aside, the first Thanksgiving began at what became the Harrison Family’s Berkeley Plantation adjoining the lower James River in Virginia. There is a brief but thorough history of this to be found by a web search of Berkeley Plantation.

    I will quote (with minor alterations) the following from the aforesaid website:

    “In an article written in October, 1986 by Nancy G. Houser, titled Whose Thanksgiving Is It?, she refers to other observances of thanks being given, both before and after what we consider to be the “official” first Thanksgiving in Virginia and the New World. All of those observances were spontaneous and were not repeated on a regular basis, except for the Berkeley ritual. The annual Berkeley religious ceremony was performed as a result of specific instructions given by the London Company to do so, and it was done almost two years before the Massachusetts celebration, which was a one-time event based upon the recommendation of Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford and was not held because of any official proclamation from England. They held several Thanksgiving’s after that, but not on a regular basis. Massachusetts didn’t even publish a proclamation ordaining such a Thanksgiving observance until 1633, twelve years after their first celebration. The Massachusetts event was a harvest feast with their Native American friends, whereas the Berkeley event was strictly religious.”

    “America’s first official English speaking Thanksgiving occurred on December 4, 1619, one year and 17 days before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts and almost 2 years before the pilgrims held a three-day Harvest Feast with their Native American friends, which is commonly thought today to be the first Thanksgiving.”

    “As Clifford Dowdy noted in his book, The Great Plantation, the men were rowed ashore, placed their personal luggage on the hard ground, gazed at the woods enclosing them and listened to the complete silence. Then, at a command from Captain Woodlief, with which they were profoundly stirred to comply, the homesick men knelt on the dried grass to pray. As instructed by the London Company, Woodlief prayed: “We ordaine that this day of our ships arrival, at the place assigned for plantacon, in the land of Virginia, shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.””

    “You see, the London Company had given a very specific list of ten instructions to the settlers when they departed England. The very first instruction was that upon landing they give a prayer of Thanksgiving for their safe voyage and to do so annually and perpetually thereafter.”

    “On November 9, 1962, Virginia State Senator John Wicker sent a telegram to President John Kennedy taking issue with Kennedy’s 1962 Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation, where full credit for Thanksgiving was given to the Pilgrims of Massachusetts. Senator Wicker claimed he had already proven to the Governor of Massachusetts the validity of Virginia’s claim by simply displaying the records to him.”

    “In response, Senator Wicker received an apologetic reply from famed historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., writing on behalf of the President. Mr. Schlesinger attributed the “error” to unconquerable New England bias on the part of the White House staff.”

    “The White House mended its ways. President Kennedy’s next Thanksgiving Proclamation on November 5, 1963, stated that “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and Massachusetts, far from home, in a lonely wilderness set aside a time of Thanksgiving. They gave thanks for their safety, the health of their children, the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God.” Virginia was given its rightful recognition and place in history!”

    Remember, Virginia is where America began.