At the height of the civil war, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of thanksgiving for the last Thursday of November, 1863. It’s the first time Thanksgiving was proclaimed for the date we now keep every year. The war was not going well. The Union defeat at Chickamauga, Sept. 19-20 1863, left 35,000 dead, the bloodiest two days in US history. Most citizens would have called for a day of fasting and prayer, but in Lincoln’s view, things were good, and there was a need for joy and thanksgiving:
“to thank the Almighty God” …for.. “the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies… “for peace that…. “has been preserved with all nations.” [That] “harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict…. “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”…. and for … “the care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife.” (see the whole proclamation here.)
His was an interesting view, as important then as now. There is a need to remember that the good we have is more than the bad, and that there is a source of the good. As of today (2015) the economy is good in Michigan and the US. We are at peace with our neighbors and have civil obedience in our streets; we have food on our tables and clothes on our backs. We have cleaner air and cleaner water than in decades, blue skies, and plentiful rain. The ozone hole has shrunk, and global warming seems to have stopped. We have so much food that hardly anyone in our country suffers starvation, but only the hunger for finer, fancy things. We have roads without bandits, lighting at the flip of a switch, water at the turn of a tap, indoor heat, and (for most) indoor cooling in the summer. We have telephone communication, and radio, and television, and music at our fingertips. We have libraries with books, and free childhood education. We have a voice in our government, and information from the far ends of the earth. All these call for joy and thanksgiving.
And we can even find a cause for thanks in the things we don’t have: space travel and the diseases we can’t cure, for example. The things we don’t have provide a reason to wake up in the morning, and a motivation to do great things. We live in a country where we can change things, and it’s nice to know there are things worth changing. For ideas that lack expression, we can provide it. For diseases, we can still search for a cure. For those who lack happiness and friendship, we can help provide both (a joyful celebration is a good occasion to do so). For those who lack a job, we can help. And to those who feel a lack of meaning in life, perhaps the best answer is a celebration to explore the source of all blessings. Let us reach out to “all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers.” A lesson Scrooge learned from the ghosts is that joy and generous celebration are self-sustaining and attractive. Let joy and good fellowship extend to all. God Bless us each and every one.
Robert Buxbaum, Detroit, November 18, 2015, The anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is tomorrow, Nov. 19th (it wasn’t well received). As for Black Friday shopping, lets not get up from the table of thanks to jostle each other for some useless trinket.