Since the settlement of the colonies, Americans were familiar with setting aside days of thanksgiving, prayer, and fasting in response to significant events. In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation designating November 26 of that year as a national day of thanksgiving to recognize the role of providence in creating the new United States and the new federal Constitution. Later, President Abraham Lincoln took steps towards designating it a permanent federal holiday.
Americans traditionally recognize the "first" Thanksgiving as having taken place at Plymouth colony in the autumn of 1621. The Separatist Puritan settlers of Plymouth, known as Pilgrims, held a feast after their first harvest as a way of thanking God for their blessings. The 1621 thanksgiving celebration, however, did not become an annual event; rather, residents of Plymouth and the other colonies held days of thanksgiving and fasting over the years, at different times of year for a variety of reasons.
President George Washington issued a proclamation on October 3, 1789, designating Thursday, November 26 as a national day of thanks. In his proclamation, Washington declared that the necessity for such a day sprung from the Almighty’s care of Americans prior to the Revolution, assistance to them in achieving independence, and help in establishing the constitutional government. Not ignoring the authority of state governments, Washington distributed his proclamation to the governors, requesting that they announce and observe the day within their states. Newspapers throughout the country subsequently published the proclamation and public celebrations were held. Washington himself marked the day by attending services at St. Paul's Chapel in New York City, and by donating beer and food to imprisoned debtors in the city.
The 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation, however, did not establish a permanent federal holiday. Washington issued another proclamation in February 1795 to recognize the defeat of a taxation rebellion in Pennsylvania. Later presidents, including John Adams and James Madison, declared days of thanksgiving. But it was not until the Civil War of the 1860s that President Lincoln initiated a regular observance of Thanksgiving in the United States.
Why does Matthew in his gospel list the ancestors of Jesus, when they are really those of his stepfather Joseph, with whom he shares no genes?
The purpose of a genealogy for ancient Jews was more complex and rich than to simply demonstrate physical descent. The modern science of genetics, chromosomes and the genetic code were unknown in the ancient world.
But even among us moderns, relationships are set up both by blood, and by marriage. That is to say, two people can be related either by direct physical descent, or “legally” through the marriage of themselves or others in their family. And thus, while Joseph and Jesus shared no physical genes, Joseph's family and Jesus are one through Joseph's marriage to Mary. So, Joseph’s family tree “matters” to us and to those in ancient Israel because, through Joseph and his marriage to Mary, Jesus relates to many others in Israel.
In ancient Israel, genealogies existed to show that one was in fact a member of the nation of Israel. They located them in a particular tribe, and also to show their relationships with others.
These are Matthew’s main purposes; namely, that Jesus belongs to the family of Israel both as a son of Mary, and through his relationship to Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary.
Matthew also has other complex purposes in mind in the names he highlights and the way he groups them in patterns of 14, all laid out according to different periods of salvation history. There are also other numerological details too complex to lay out here.
So, as you can see, there is more than a question of physical descent involved in the recitation of ancient genealogies. Human beings relate in more than physical ways, but also through a complex network of relationships we call families, tribes, and nations.
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