Tomorrow, Americans will sit down together with friends and family across the country to celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s the most American of holidays — a tradition that we trace back to our pilgrim ancestors who gathered with the Wampanoag tribe to celebrate the first Thanksgiving in 1621 near Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Thanksgiving continued to be celebrated occasionally through the 17th and 18th Century, but it wasn’t until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln set aside the fourth Thursday of November as a national Thanksgiving Day that the annual holiday formally took root.
I think President Lincoln’s words from his first official Thanksgiving Day proclamation, during America’s Civil War, are especially appropriate this year as we pause to reflect on the blessings that have been bestowed upon us even while in the midst of our current conflict:
“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 unequalled 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 had 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 consciousness 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 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.”
Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863
Tomorrow, Americans will gather to give thanks for the many blessings we have received — while offering prayers for our brave men and women in uniform serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world, as well as their families and friends here at home.
And, as President Lincoln wished in 1863, let us do everything in our power, and ask for God’s help, to bring a swift end to our current military conflict abroad, while healing the many wounds that divide us as Americans here at home.
Gert and I send our very best wishes for a safe and happy Thanksgiving.
P.S. To learn more about how to support our men and women in uniform this Thanksgiving, I invite you to visit www.americasupportsyou.mil/americasupportsyou/help.html.