A Thanksgiving Reflection

Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise!
—Psalm 95:2

This week, we struggle to balance our thoughts of papers and reports and assignments with dreams of turkey and stuffing and pie. Such a balancing act is not easily done. So, in an effort to tip the scale definitively toward a dream that culminates at warm pumpkin pie topped with a freshly whipped cool cream, I offer this historical morsel I found, reminding us how we arrived at this point in our civic calendar as a day set aside for food and companionship and thanks:

In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag tribe shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states.

In 1817, New York became the first of several states officially to adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday; each state celebrated it on a different day, however. The southern states remained largely unfamiliar with the tradition. In 1827, the noted magazine editor and prolific writer Sarah Josepha Hale—author, among countless other things, of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”—launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years, she published numerous editorials and sent scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians. Abraham Lincoln finally heeded her request in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, in a proclamation entreating 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.” He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November.

Thanksgiving 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. Roosevelt’s plan, known derisively as Franksgiving, was met with passionate opposition. In 1941, the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

As you prepare to share time and food with those you love, let us remember that the day, while a singular moment, is meant to fulfill many duties. It is a time to remember, celebrating what has transpired over the past year. It is a time to treasure, enjoying moments with loved ones. It is, also, a time to challenge, spurring us from complacency to action as our thanksgiving for what we have stirs our compassion to be concerned enough to help those who cry out for what we take for granted.

Have a wonderful week, joyous celebration, and a Happy Thanksgiving.

Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.


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