Burden, faith gave birth to Thanksgiving

Published 4:39 am Wednesday, November 27, 2002

By By Robert Blankenship - Managing Editor
As we sit around our tables this Thanksgiving and fill our bellies with turkey, it is important to remember that the holiday is about more than food and football. Thanksgiving offers all of us an opportunity to consider the things for which we should be grateful. For most us, that list is very long. While there is turmoil and injustice breeding around the globe, we can each look to our own lives and see that we have been blessed.
The holiday that we enjoy so much today was provided to us by people who possessed heavy burdens and faithful hearts.
Almost 400 years ago, a group of settlers voyaged across the sea and landed in what is now Masachusetts. Landing in November, the pilgrims faced a harsh winter and many died of starvation.
But, with spring came new hope. With help from the native Indians, the pilgrims planted crops and enjoyed a bountiful harvest in the fall.
To celebrate the harvest, the pilgrims declared a three-day feast to thank God and to celebrate their friendship with the Indians. Thanksgivings and similar events were held by people around the world to celebrate the harvest season. Similar services were held by Virginia settlers as early as 1607. However, the Plymouth Rock feast is considered the first Thanksgiving Festival.
In 1789, President George Washington declared the first "Day of Thanksgiving to God" under the nation's new constitution. Despite this early proclamation and others that followed, Thanksgiving was primarily observed at the state level.
Many give credit for the annual national Thanksgiving Day to Sarah Joseph Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book. She promoted the idea of Thanksgiving for 30 years, addressing the issue with several presidents during that time. It was Abraham Lincoln who answered her call in 1863 by proclaiming the last Thursday of November as a national Day of Thansgiving.
What is most interesting about Lincoln's proclamation is the timing in which it occurs within his own life. It was the same year that 60,000 Americans died in the Battle of Gettysburg. In November, he presented his Gettysburg Address. It was recorded that he later said to a friend: "When I left Springfield (to be president) I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ." It was with this new-found faith that Lincoln established our tradition of Thanksgiving.
Over the next 75 years presidents followed Lincoln's precedent. Then, in 1941, Congress permanently established the final Thursday of each November as a national holiday.
The faith and dedication of the pilgrims and the burden of our leaders are embedded into the Thanksgiving holiday. Despite their trials, they knew they had much to be grateful for.
For me and my wife, we don't have to think hard about the things we are grateful for this year. We can just look back five months ago to the birth of our son and be thankful that he is now a part of our lives.
As you prepare for your Thanksgiving celebration take a look around. You will likely see many things to be thankful for.

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