November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day

November 26, 2009

A Proclamation By the President of the United States of America

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor--and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their Joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be--That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions--to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us--and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington[1]

And here we are 220 years to the day later from when George Washington, once a visitor to New Bern, declared that we should pause to give thanks for all the blessings God has bestowed upon us. President Washington noted not only that we should give thanks, but more importantly to whom we should give thanks.

Our American tradition holds that the Pilgrims held a Thanksgiving Feast in 1621, however the first Thanksgiving service in North America was in May of 1578 in Newfoundland, and it is believed that special worship services around a theme of giving thanks were held by Spaniards in La Florida. The 1621 Thanksgiving may not have been much a religious occasion aside from saying a blessing, given the Pilgrims puritanical rejection of public religious displays. I’m sure had the Packers and Lions been playing football in 162, it would have been more important than any public worship service. It was a day of feasting, playing games, and maybe even enjoying an adult beverage or two.

It was in 1623 that the pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts held another day of Thanksgiving. A severe drought had wreaked havoc on the crops, and the colonists prayed and fasted for relief. Rain came a few days later, as did Captain Miles Standish, arriving with food and news that a Dutch supply ship was not far off. The Thanksgiving festival held by the colonists on June 30th, 1623 appears to have been the origin of our Thanksgiving Day because it combined religious and social celebrations.

Over the next 150 years, there were intermittent days of thanks, mostly on a local level and mostly held as autumn harvest celebrations. In 1789, Elias Boudinot, a member of the House of Representatives for Massachusetts, moved that a day of Thanksgiving be held to “thank God for giving the American people the opportunity to create a Constitution to preserve their hard won freedoms.” President Washington issued the proclamation I just read.

Days of Thanksgiving were again intermittently declared by various presidents up until 1815. It wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln issued the Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1862 that this holiday feast became a true American fixture. Buoyed by the Union victory at Gettysburg, President Lincoln called upon, again, November 26th to be a national Thanksgiving Day, to be observed every year on the fourth Thursday of November. A Congressional Joint Resolution in 1941 set the fourth Thursday of November as the national holiday for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is the only national religious event we have. Thanksgiving is something celebrated by people regardless of creed and culture, and an event that unites us across religious divisions. It’s a time when we many of us will enjoy a feast, large or small, to remember all that God has given us. And while we have this one day to celebrate it on a national scale, giving thanks to God is something we should never let a day or even an hour go by without doing.

It is to God alone that we owe all we have and all we are. All we have is God’s, and God gives us the opportunity to use the gifts given to us to share God’s love with the world. So as the tradition was handed to us by our forefathers and mothers, let us continue to give thanks to God, not only today, but every day let us find something, someone, some place, to be thankful for. It may not always be easy, but if we can find one thing to say thank you to God for, then we can find two. And if we can find two, then we can four, and pretty soon, our gratitude will be overflowing. May each of you have a blessed Thanksgiving, today and every day.


[1] http://www.si.edu/encyclopedia_si/nmah/thanks.htm

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