Lincoln Thanksgiving Proclamation
On December 25, 1789, Congress, packed full of our Founding Fathers, was in session. Nothing, especially when it comes to holidays, is ever “what it used to be.” Let’s not get into a “true spirit” conversation when it comes to Thanksgiving. All holidays evolve - Saturnalia turned into Christmas and fertility festivals turned into Easter.
Regardless of their original intent the current holidays trump what was. We attach memories to them. They become personalized with traditions. We’re a country of re-invention.
Thanksgiving means to us now what it means to us now:
It’s the only day of year which the perennial sandwich meat turkey suddenly has special narcotic properties. It’s the year’s biggest shopping day, busiest travel day, and the most drunken arguments over why we bother to make sweet potatoes when no one eats them day.
Thanksgiving is a boon to the economy. Entire industries like pumpkin and turkey producers depend on this all-American eating holiday. Americans cook up around 45 million birds for Thanksgiving dinner, along with mountains of traditional starchy comfort-food favorites. Plus, towers of pies and a tsunami of beer (a Puritan staple) saturate the landscape. Yes, it’s all about overdoing it.
Americans take to the roads and the skies in record numbers to watch their loved ones overdo it.
And why do we do this? Why do we hang out with our families and friends the last Thursday of November every year?
It’s the pilgrims, right? Sure, the pilgrims tried to do something with indigenous North American items like giant wild birds and goofy looking gourds and had a feast. Yes, it’s a harvest festival – marking the end of the summer’s work and noting the Earth’s bounty. But it’s more about President Lincoln, who in 1863 - halfway through the bloodiest and highest casualty war America has yet to face and with a country divided against itself - declared a national day of giving thanks on the last Thursday of November. Prior to that time, each year it was up to the President to decide which day was set aside.
Yes, Thanksgiving didn’t start as a day of gorging and watching football with your usually avoided relatives. For Lincoln, it was a somber occasion to give – wait for it – thanks – even during our country’s darkest hour.
“And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience,” wrote the 16th President in his Thanksgiving Proclamation. “Commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged and 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.”
Humble penitence? Widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers? A day of somber national contrition!?
We’d rather just hear how we’re number one even though currently we’re in two never-ending wars coming out of the Bush lost decade for the middle-class. Even though we’re losing our standing in the world, our feckless new Congress is interested in nothing beyond their own noses. A short ten years ago America was a leader in human rights, now former President George W. Bush boasts about waterboarding and indefinite detentions on his chatty book tour.
Yes, a Thanksgiving of solemn national self-reflection seems as antiquated as a buckle on one’s hat.
Okay, maybe we should get into a “true spirit” of Thanksgiving conversation.