By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 27, 2009 ( – President Obama's brief proclamation of Thanksgiving Day on November 26 was unique among all recorded Thanksgiving proclamations by his predecessors: it is the first one that fails to directly acknowledge the existence of God.  

The beneficence shown by God to America is a theme that traditionally defines the Thanksgiving holiday, and this theme is strongly emphasized in the original Thanksgiving Day proclamations and consistently acknowledged even by modern presidents.

Obama's unprecedented proclamation, however, only makes indirect mention of God by quoting George Washington, stating: “Today, we recall President George Washington, who proclaimed our first national day of public thanksgiving to be observed 'by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.'” 

The proclamation goes on to call Thanksgiving Day “a unique national tradition we all share” that unites people as “thankful for our common blessings.” 

“This is a time for us to renew our bonds with one another, and we can fulfill that commitment by serving our communities and our Nation throughout the year,” it continues.

All other presidential Thanksgiving proclamations directly refer to “God,” “Providence,” or another appellation for the divine being. 

But Obama's historic decision to avoid directly mentioning God in the Thanksgiving proclamation doesn't necessarily come as  a surprise. Earlier this year Obama similarly made history on Inaguration Day by explicitly referencing “non-believers” in his speech, which, according to USA Today, was the first time in history that a President had done so. Obama has also said on more than one occasion that the United States is “not a Christian nation.”  

The second weakest reference to God in a Thanksgiving proclamation was issued in 1975 by Gerald Ford, who in his second year as President exhorted Americans to “reaffirm our belief in a dynamic spirit that will continue to nurture and guide us.”  But in his first address, Ford characterized Thanksgiving as a time “all Americans join in giving thanks to God for the blessings we share.”

In 1969, President Richard Nixon's address referred to the “Source of all good” who “constantly bestows His blessings on mankind.”  In 1978, Jimmy Carter hailed the bounty provided by “Providence”; Ronald Reagan's 1982 proclamation mentioned “a divine plan” that established America.

Even President Bill Clinton affirmed in his first such proclamation that, “From the beginnings of our Nation, we have sought to recognize the providence and mercy of God with words and acts of gratitude,” and called the spirit of Thanksgiving “acknowledging God's graciousness.”