It would be easier, perhaps, to celebrate our national holiday of Thanksgiving if things did not look so glum right now. If the economy were booming, if virtually everyone had jobs and homes were appreciating in value faster than real-estate ads could be updated — in short, if it were 2006 — it would be no trouble for millions of Americans to find reason to give thanks.
But Thanksgiving wasn’t born out of such extravagance, and some of its most famous celebrations occurred during this country’s darkest hours.
The first gathering occurred among the settlers of the Plymouth Colony who would become known as Pilgrims. In early autumn of 1621, the settlers gathered with local Native Americans to give thanks for the abundance of food they had. But their experience since their arrival less than a year before had not been easy, and there was no guarantee the colony would survive. By autumn 1621, only 53 of the 102 colonists who had left
England for the New World were still alive. And they had no way of knowing another ship, with more colonists and additional supplies, would arrive in less than a month.
But they gathered to give thanks, nonetheless.
In autumn 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving.
Other presidents had observed Thanksgiving, but Lincoln was the first to ensure it would be celebrated on the same day across the country.
His proclamation included these lines: “In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity ... peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict.”
Lincoln pointed to “the fruitful fields and healthful skies,” the expanding economy and the prospect of many more years of freedom as reasons for Americans to give thanks.
Seventy-one years later, Franklin D. Roosevelt also found ample reason to be thankful during difficult times.
In the depths of the Depression, he said, “During the past year, we have been given the courage and fortitude to meet the problems which have confronted us in our national life.
Our sense of social justice has deepened. We have been given vision to make new provisions for human welfare and happiness, and in a spirit of mutual helpfulness we have cooperated to translate that vision into reality ... With gratitude in our hearts for what has already been achieved, may we, with the help of God, dedicate ourselves anew to work for the betterment of mankind.”
We also have much to be thankful for today.
Once again, the people of this nation have elected new leaders. And, though the campaign was long and often vitriolic, we are preparing to transfer power peacefully and according to the will of the people, not based on which side has the most guns or commits the greatest violence.
Although our ability to purchase gadgets and games may be diminished, the vast majority of Americans live lives of comfort, free of want, that would have been unimaginable to their ancestors of even a few generations past.
And for those who don’t, there are not only a multitude of government programs to help, but the unfailing charity of U.S. citizens, who always seem willing to sacrifice some of their own bounty to help others in need.
There are neither gulags nor Gestapo, no restrictions on traveling to see friends or family, nor on how much we can enjoy when we get there.
We truly do have much to be thankful for today. Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers.