“I am blessed, I am blessed, every day I live I am blessed.” The familiar words are from just one of the songs that reflect the attitude of Thanksgiving where we recognize blessings regardless of the day’s situations. The Thanksgiving holiday is one that we celebrate with memories of Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock, and Wampanoag Indians. However, it was not something that happened once and then just simply was repeated as an annual festival since. Instead, the colonists declared a time of giving thanks in 1620. They invited Indians that had helped them survive the first winter without their complete population being lost to disease and starvation. It was not repeated until a drought broke in 1623 following a prayer service asking for a long rain. In the late spring of 1676 another thanksgiving was declared. With such separation between them, we can hardly call this a regular occurrence. Instead, it was more of a special declaration to mark something that really impacted everyone.
President George Washington proclaimed a day of giving thanks, but not everyone supported this. It still did not stick as the national day we are familiar with now. Instead, it was Sarah Josepha Hale that wrote editorials and letters focused on gaining the attention of this date and succeeding with President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. Sarah Hale thought that in midst of a brutal Civil War, in the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation bringing a new struggle to the freedom issues within the war, the fighting at Vicksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, and then riots following a draft proclamation; the entire county was much like a powder keg dangerously close to being blown to bits in the midst of the sparks. Sarah Hale wrote in the Northwood publication, “Thanksgiving like the Fourth of July should be considered a national festival and observed by all our people. There is a deep moral influence in these periodical seasons of rejoicing, in which communities participate. They bring out… the best sympathies in our natures.” In the midst of a brutal war, a politically charged climate which presented dangers to the union which were very real, and with many families mourning the loss of husbands, brothers, sons, uncles, cousins, nephews, friends, neighbors, wives, daughters, aunts, nieces, communities, leaders, health, ways of life, homes, crops, jobs, traditions, and stability. In the midst of this, there was someone proclaiming the need to give thanks.
It was in this very dark time that this woman persuaded enough people to throw their support behind this holiday, that President Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation. The President issued a proclamation which identified how we are “prone to forget the source of the bounties of fruitful fields and healthful skies.” He did not leave out the war, but instead, “In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nation’s, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict… No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gift of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sings, 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.” The proclamation turns into a prayer asking for the “wound of the nation to be healed, restoration consistent with the Divine purposes, and the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.”
That was many years ago and in 1941; Congress finally sanctioned this as a legal holiday. Our nation has seen wars, famines, and losses since the early intrepid pilgrims gave thanks for their survival of a winter and since the terrible battles and ramifications of the Civil War. However, in the darkest of these days, we had leaders who stopped to give thanks. I would urge you to stop today as well, no matter your situation, and give thanks.