Giving thanks

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Editor’s note: This editorial was first published on Thanksgiving 2015.

Our modern Thanksgiving narrative harkens back to the 1621 autumnal feast at Plimouth Plantation in celebration of the harvest.

But according to “Observant Citizen,” a columnist for the “old” Boston Post, the Pilgrims actually set aside the first day of thanks-giving in February of that year, after a ship from Dublin rescued the starving villagers by bringing them food from Ireland.

Either way, there is no doubt that the Pilgrims were religious people who occasionally set aside days for prayer and for giving thanks to the Lord for the blessings He bestowed upon their community.

During the Revolutionary War and in the early days of the Republic, different American communities continued the tradition of setting aside certain days for giving thanks.  In 1789, President George Washington declared a national day of thanks-giving.  But America did not celebrate another national day of thanks until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the national holiday that we continue to celebrate each November.

Grateful for recent Union victories on the battlefield, and inspired by the perseverance of the Pilgrims, in October 1863  Lincoln asked Americans to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father” for preserving the nation in the midst of civil war.

In his proclamation, Lincoln did not dwell on the negative aspects of the war, but rather found reason for optimism, noting that, “notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field,” the nation had found “augmented strength and vigor” from which people could look forward to “continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

Ever since, our entire nation has marked the end of November with a day for giving thanks.  And every American president since Lincoln has seen fit to issue a proclamation on honor of the day.

Even in the most challenging of times – in the midst of bloody civil strife, during two world wars, and in the months following 9/11 – our leaders have found reason for optimism and cause to be grateful for this great nation and its unique promise.

This year, we find ourselves once again in trying times.  Today, our ideals and our will to preserve our experiment in ordered liberty are again being tested by forces both within and without.  As in times past, the way in which we, as a nation, respond to the enemies of freedom will not only define our generation but will affect the course of human events.

As we gather together today, let us give thanks not merely for our material possessions or for our own families and friends.  Let us thank God for the freedoms that we as Americans enjoy and for this great nation that remains, as always, a beacon of hope to the world.