This being Thanksgiving week, I thought it would be a good time to go back in history and see how this beloved holiday actually came to be. If you’re like me when you think of Thanksgiving, you think of pilgrims and Indians sitting down together to celebrate the harvest. You think of sharing food and fellowship. And you would be right. That really did happen on that first Thanksgiving. But let’s explore the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say.
Two of the most beloved presidents of The United States, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, were instrumental in the creation of this National Day of Thanksgiving. And both of them were looking for a way to promote healing after long and brutal conflicts that nearly broke apart our country. When I looked back at the proclamations of these two presidents, I can’t help but see some similarities in our country today. While the conflicts in today’s world are different, we certainly could use a day to come together as a nation and give thanks and pray for healing. Let me share a few words from each of these presidents, and you decide if they ring true today.
On October 3, 1789, in our country’s infancy, George Washington assigned one day, November 26, 1789 as a National Day of Thanksgiving. His proclamation urges the people to give “sincere and humble thanks” to God for the conclusion of the war, for civil and religious tranquility, and “for all the great and various favors which He hath been pleased to confer upon us.” That sounds familiar, but what follows in the proclamation may be new to you, as it was to me. He says the people should ask God “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 bless them with good government, peace, and concord.” George Washington set aside one day, not only for giving thanks, but for praying for guidance and goodness.
While George Washington was responsible for the first Thanksgiving, seventy-four years later, on October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln made sure that A National Day of Thanksgiving was set aside each and every year going forward. Lincoln’s proclamation was made in the midst of the brutal and divisive Civil War. While his proclamation asks the people to give thanks amid these heartbreaking circumstances, he ends it with asking for prayers for healing and guidance. Hear these words: We “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, tranquility and union.”
This Thursday, as you are enjoying your turkey and dressing, your football and pumpkin pie, think about where our great country is today. And think too, about the words of these great men. And before you head out for your holiday shopping, take time to not only be thankful for our many blessings, but to pray for healing and unity of our great nation. Happy Thanksgiving!
George Lusby is the former Scott County judge-executive. “The Best of Crawfish and Minnows,” is available at the News-Graphic office.