Thursday is Thanksgiving, a holiday during which Americans make great efforts to pull their extended families together to simply fill a chair at a dining table, pass the main course around the table and chat with grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles, who are never visited as often as should be.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful day. Our reason for such an elated feeling for a pause on the calendar is that amid the dining, dozing during football games and quelling of the occasional quarrelsome child, the day recognizes that family is the center of our society. However, this gathering of the clans is not the sole original intent of the holiday.
Historians have poked into the past and the most sturdy storyline they have come up with is that a group of European colonists, known way back in 1621 as Pilgrims, were celebrating a harvest in the fall when a group of Wampanoag native Americans appeared at the gates of the colony’s stockade. The Wampanoag arrived with a spirit of brotherhood and baskets filled with venison, seafood and other edible delights provided by the land and sea around the Pilgrims’ village.
Present-day Americans have idealized that brief bonding of two cultures, embracing its symbolism of hope that dissimilar peoples can get along.
THE TRUTH THAT MANKIND is inherently flawed by having an aggressive nature is tossed away for a day, and we feast, rest and dredge up old family stories to embarrass spouses, parents and siblings. Some of the best of our humanity shows through on Thanksgiving.
Two presidents, who had seen the worst violence that men can conjure, saw the need for a day for all Americans to give thanks to their creator for the best things in their lives. President George Washington proclaimed a day of thanksgiving on Oct. 3, 1789. The holiday caught on in many states and each state thereafter set its own day for a feast of thanks.
Then an editor of a lady’s journal, according to historians, suggested to President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 that a national holiday was needed to wash away the hodgepodge of state holidays.
Lincoln picked up his quill pen, and without too many periods dotting the page to slow his thoughts, wrote a proclamation that first mentions the impact of the Civil War on the nation. Then Lincoln points out that even when war is harvesting the lives of young men like a scythe in wheat, there were blessings all around if one just looked.
“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 has 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.”
With our nation divided by social issues, politics and economic standing in 2018, we should heed Lincoln’s optimistic advice these many years on, and spend a day — Thursday — pondering what is good in our lives and the many reasons we should be thankful.