When most of us think of Thanksgiving tradition we go all the way back to 1621 and the first Thanksgiving feast attended by fifty-three Pilgrims and ninety Native Americans. It isn’t hard to imagine that they had much to be thankful for. They had made it to the New World, succeeded in surviving the harsh New England winter, made friends with the Wampanoag Tribe, learned their method of fertilization and crop planting in the hard soil, and harvested a nice bounty.
Our founding fathers left these subsequent celebrations up to the states and although most of them observed a day of Thanksgiving, it wasn’t on the same day. That changed in October of 1863 when Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday.
For those of you not familiar with American History, our country was in the middle of a Civil War in 1863. Abraham Lincoln had lost two young sons – Eddie in 1850 and Willie in 1862. Willie was said to be the darling of the Lincolns and his death was horrific for the President and First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln. Her already fragile mental condition was taxed beyond its limits.
Yet, in the face of all of these challenges and heartbreaking events, President Lincoln found the fortitude to be grateful. And perhaps he was wise enough to believe that a day set aside for America to offer thanks as a nation might give us all a common ground for a moment in time.
This is his Proclamation:
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State
Wow. We complain if the gravy is lumpy.
While so many of us have anxiety over sitting across the table from someone in our family who causes angst, or we dread seeing our aging parents in even more feeble condition than the year before, or we can’t agree on visitation with children going with the exes – ex-wife or ex-husband – or whatever the insult is that hasn’t been forgiven and will never be forgotten, I wonder if we would even be celebrating this day if the human ability to be grateful and forgiving wasn’t larger than all other issues.
I have much to be thankful for. My gratitude hasn’t suffered the slings and arrows of so many in our country and in the world. Hurricane Sandy dealt a harsh blow to portion of the East Coast. Our entire nation is still struggling to pull ourselves out of debt. Businesses are still closing. A local hospital in my area just laid off 100 employees. News of the fighting in the Middle East draws us to our televisions where the visions of the wounded, especially the children, brings me to tears.
Yet, there is still so much to be grateful for.
As Abe Lincoln said, ” We commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”
And I wish peace, harmony, tranquility and union for every person and in every family. Perhaps if we start within our own communities and families, it will spread out across the globe.