In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn't until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. However it wouldn't have happened if a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale didn't petition President Lincoln to pass it as a national holiday.
The New Hampshire-born Hale had grown up regularly celebrating an annual Thanksgiving holiday," She often wrote editorials and articles about the holiday and she lobbied state and federal officials to pass legislation creating a fixed, national day of thanks on the last Thursday of November—a unifying measure, she believed that could help ease growing tensions and divisions between the northern and southern parts of the country. Her efforts paid off: By 1854, more than 30 states and U.S. territories had a Thanksgiving celebration on the books, but Hale's vision of a national holiday remained unfulfilled.
The outbreak of war in April 1861 did little to stop Sarah Josepha Hale's efforts to create such a holiday. She continued to write editorials on the subject, urging Americans to "put aside sectional feelings and local incidents" and rally around the unifying cause of Thanksgiving. And the holiday had continued, despite hostilities, in both the Union and the Confederacy. In 1861 and 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis had issued Thanksgiving Day proclamations following Southern victories. Abraham Lincoln himself called for a day of thanks in April 1862, following Union victories at Fort Donelson, Fort Henry and at Shiloh, and again in the summer of 1863 after the Battle of Gettysburg.
Shortly after Lincoln's summer proclamation, Hale wrote to both the president and Secretary of State William Seward, once again urging them to declare a national Thanksgiving, stating that only the chief executive had the power to make the holiday, "permanently, an American custom and institution." Whether Lincoln was already predisposed to issue such a proclamation before receiving Hale's letter of September 28 remains unclear. What is certain is that within a week, Seward had drafted Lincoln's official proclamation fixing the national observation of Thanksgiving on the final Thursday in November, a move the two men hoped would help "heal the wounds of the nation."
Thanksgiving is a holiday with an intended history of putting aside our differences and coming together, whether that be pilgrims and indians, a family, a community, or a nation. Gratitude is an emotion that is as powerful as love and feeling thankful for all that we have, makes us realize what is truly important. Think of who you can extend a dish of yams to like a proverbial olive branch to mend something in your life and let peace, love and gratitude carry you through the holiday season.
-Information taken from history.com