Giving Thanks More Than Once a Year

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Lesli NolenBy Lesli Nolen

Published November 2012

It is that time of year again when I eat a little more than I should. It is that time of year when there is more to do than there is time. It is that time of year when I become a little more frazzled than normal. Ahhh, the joys of the holidays!

Thanksgiving I love, for now. You see, I am not responsible for the turkey or the dressing. I am blessed that my husband and I still have our parents and that they still cook. I am so not ready to have the torch handed down to me yet. We usually have the customary meal on Thanksgiving—turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate cake and pie, cookies, etc.

Now do you see why I said this is the time of year I eat more than I should? It is a time of feasting and giving thanks!

As this Thanksgiving approaches I think back to the way it began. History tell us that 102 passengers of different religious groups traveled across the ocean on a small ship seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith, hopeful in the promise of prosperity and ownership of land in the New World. After a treacherous 66 day journey they anchored at Cape Cod. A month later the settlers, commonly known as Pilgrims, crossed the Massachusetts Bay and began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth.

Their first winter was brutal. Some of the colonists never even left the ship, later dying of disease and other ailments.  Only half of the original passengers lived to see their first New England spring. It was that spring the settlers forged alliances with the Pawtuxet tribe that lasted more than a half of a century, remaining one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonist and Native Americans.

Painting by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, 1914, “The First Thanksgiving,” depicts the artist’s conception of that first prayerful celebration in 1621.

It was in November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first successful corn harvest, that Governor William Bradford organized a celebration feast and invited a group of the colony’s Native American allies. This is known as America’s First Thanksgiving. The festivities lasted three days and it wasn’t officially a holiday. Unlike our feast today, there were no cakes, pies, etc., and I’m not even sure what their main meat for the meal was.

Again, in 1623 the Pilgrims held another feast of thanksgiving to mark the end of a long drought that had threatened the year’s harvest. This prompted Governor Bradford to call for a religious fast. Days of fasting and thanksgiving became a common practice. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year, leading the way for George Washington to issue a proclamation by the national government of the United States in 1789. Later, John Adams and James Madison also held the days of thanks during their presidencies.

In 1871, New York became the first of several states to officially adopt the annual Thanksgiving holiday. It was in 1827 when magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. It took 36 years, publishing articles and editorials to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians. Abraham Lincoln finally accepted her request in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, in a proclamation for 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.” Lincoln designated the final Thursday in November. It was that way until 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. With that came much opposition, so two years later he signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November. And it has been that way ever sense.

In the world today we have lost the religious side to what Thanksgiving is all about. The original Pilgrims and later Americans offered thanks for the good that had been given them. They fasted and gave thanks often. Most Thanksgivings today are heavily commercialized—it’s about the food, the football, the parades, the shopping.

We have moved far away from the original concept of Thanksgiving.  Sure, we might give thanks on Thanksgiving, but what about the other 364 days of the year?  I can’t think of a better time to stop and give thanks than right now! To be thankful for a harvest, even in the drought.

Lincoln said to ask God to be with his people and his nation. He said to ask God to be with those less fortunate, those who have suffered, those who mourn. Most importantly he said to ask God to heal the wounds of the nation! After so many years, those words couldn’t be more true today.

As you sit down at the table this Thanksgiving with a feast before you, remember what those before you have done. And, give thanks today and every day!

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