President Biden Omits God from Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

By Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich

As dozens of presidents have done before him, President Joe Biden issued an official Thanksgiving Day Proclamation on November 22 to commemorate the national holiday. In the proclamation, Biden called upon Americans to “be grateful for all the blessings of this Nation and its limitless possibilities.” 

However, unlike Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump, Biden refused to include any specific reference to Almighty God. 

The President’s glaring omission of God in his proclamation is a flawed representation of the history that is at the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday and the traditions that have endured in our nation for centuries. It dismisses the fact that the first Thanksgiving, celebrated in the fall of 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, was a religious celebration. 

More than 100 pilgrims who arrived on America’s shores in 1620 made the treacherous two-month journey aboard the Mayflower in search of religious freedom. Despite the immense challenges of severe weather, starvation, and sickness that claimed the lives of many, the Pilgrims endured and survived their first winter. 

Thanks to the help of the Wampanoag tribe, the Pilgrims yielded their first successful harvest and began to regain their health and strength. Governor of the Plymouth colony, William Bradford, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. For three days, the Pilgrims gathered with the Wampanoag tribe to give thanks to God for their lives, their freedom, and the opportunities that lay before them.

According to Biden’s proclamation, “the Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving in honor of their first successful harvest.” While this is true, it overlooks the point of the gathering, who the Pilgrims were, and why they came to the New World. 

The Pilgrims were a religious people. They believed so strongly in their faith that they broke off from the Church of England and risked their lives to come to America to worship freely. 

The Mayflower Compact, an agreement signed by the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower ship, invoked the name of God as the purpose for settling in the New World. According to the compact, the Pilgrims aimed to establish the colony “for the glory of God” and the “advancement of the Christian Faith.”  

As the Pilgrims saw it, their success, survival, and newfound friendship with the Wampanoag tribe were only possible because of God. 

President Biden’s Thanksgiving proclamation also points to General George Washington, who, with his troops, “celebrated Thanksgiving on the way to Valley Forge” during the American Revolution. 

Biden’s proclamation does not suggest why the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army decided to take critical time away from the war effort to encourage his men to give thanks to God. 

Nor does it mention that Washington –  who later attributed the colonists’ victory in the war to Divine Providence – directed his men to delay the move to the winter quarters at Valley Forge so that they could thank God.

Finally, Biden’s proclamation provided a third example of the central role that Thanksgiving has played in American history: “During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday to honor the blessings of our country, even as he fought to preserve our Union.”

After the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, the deadliest battle of the bloodiest conflict in American history, President Lincoln called for a day of “national thanksgiving, praise, and prayer.” (Lincoln’s proclamation is considered the start of celebrating Thanksgiving as a national, observed holiday, though it wasn’t formally established by Congress as a federal holiday until 1941.) 

Lincoln’s proclamation invited Americans to “render the homage due to the Divine Majesty” and “invoke the influence of His Holy Spirit to subdue the anger” and “lead the whole nation through the paths of repentance and … back to the perfect enjoyment of union and fraternal peace.”

Throughout our nation’s history – from the first colonists to arrive on America’s shores and the revolutionary cause for independence, to the abolitionist movement and the Civil War – faith and religion have shaped the heart of the American identity and experience.

President Joe Biden may be able to keep God out of his Thanksgiving proclamation, but he can’t write God out of America’s history.