On thanksgiving: A history lesson

Thanksgiving was founded on a tradition of collaboration between races and ethnicities. Historically it celebrated the resilience to endure disease, hunger, and extreme hardship. It was seen as a time of celebration for all Americans to take time to remember those who are less fortunate.

Thanksgiving is a time of home-going.

A time to gather together.

A time to give thanks.

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

Historically, since our Nation’s birth, our leaders have been intentional about giving thanks, especially during seasons of great calamity. 

The origins of Thanksgiving hail back to the American Revolution. 

‘During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year, and in 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States; in it, he called upon Americans to express their gratitude’

history.com

President Washington made that declaration right here in NJ.

But it wasn’t until a tenacious woman urged our Nation to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday that this occurred. 

In 1827, a well-known magazine editor and writer Sarah Josepha Hale also an author and advocate for women’s rights and education, launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

For 36 years, she wrote editorials and sent numerous letters to various governors, state senators, and even presidents.

In 1863 Abraham Lincoln finally conceded to her pleas. In the height of the Civil War, he wrote a proclamation imploring all Americans to ask God to

...”commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation”

Scheduling Thanksgiving for the last Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day every year until 1939 when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression (history.com).

This reminds us that our faithfulness in the little things can have an impact far greater than we could ever have imagined. 

Sarah Hale devoted nearly four decades of her life to advocating for a holiday commemorating a day of national gratitude. 

In her editorial, Sarah Hale wrote,

The noble annual feast day of our Thanksgiving resembles, in some respects, the Feast of Pentecost, which was, in fact, the yearly season of Thanksgiving with the Jews. It might, without inconvenience, be observed on the same day of November, say the last Thursday in the month…It is a festival which will never become obsolete, for it cherishes the best affections of the heart – the social and domestic ties. It calls together the dispersed members of the family circle and brings plenty, joy and gladness to the dwellings of the poor and lowly. None are left to pine in that most abject state of physical want

(1837, GODEY’S LADY’S BOOK)

You see, throughout history, from the birth of our Nation through the Civil War and Great Depression to today, Thanksgiving has served as a holiday of gratitude in the midst of grief fueled by a resolve that could only be implanted by fervent faith in God’s grace.

This November, as we prepare to gather under unique circumstances, we call on you to think of those less fortunate. Reminding us Thanksgiving is (and always was) a season to bring together the family, focus on the orphan and the widow, and gather together in a feast to celebrate God’s goodness. 

And as we do this simple thing, we will heal our Nation’s wounds amid civil strife, move hearts to a place of gratitude, and from the realization of our blessed station, might pour into the lives of the less fortunate. May Thanksgiving continue to be as the founders intended, this and every year!

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