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Reflecting on the Meaning of Thanksgiving

Reflecting on the Meaning of Thanksgiving

Members of the New York City Police Department Mounted Unit chat at the end of the 81st Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 22, 2007 in New York, New York. [Flikr | lauren victoria burke]

Hi, and thanks for joining me one more time in this November’s edition of The Chaplain’s Corner. The big election is history and Thanksgiving is soon upon us again and then my 36th wedding anniversary. Where DID the year go? No… the question I should be asking myself is “When will the Christmas tree get put up this year?” — you’ve heard the old saying about “best laid plans of mice and men.” Well I don’t procrastinate. I never put off until tomorrow what I can do the day after.

I don’t know if the politically correct textbooks still tell our children that the Thanksgiving holiday was established as a time when our nation was to pause to give thanks to God for His blessings to us, so let me share a little history.

Thanksgiving was first celebrated by the settlers at Plymouth in the Massachusetts colony in 1621 under the leadership of Governor William Bradford to give thanks for a bountiful harvest in the new land they had colonized. Over 150 years later, Washington and Madison each issued a Thanksgiving proclamation once during their Presidencies. It was not until the middle of the Civil War (1863), however, when Abraham Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation establishing Thanksgiving Day as an annual national event, occurring on the last Thursday of November.

I just found Lincoln’s proclamation on the internet. I don’t know that I had ever read it before. In our current climate of political correctness I don’t know if he could have said it today, but here it is:

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation. The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, 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; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. 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, 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.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward, Secretary of State

Sadly, I think that “we” have largely lost the intent of Thanksgiving just as “we” have lost the meaning of Christmas. It’s not about eating until it hurts and then sleeping until the football game comes on while someone else does the dishes. It’s about giving God (who gets all the blame for bad things that happen) some thanks for the good that He brings our way. Even in the midst of current events, there are things for which to be thankful if we but look for them.

I gotta close this out. Enjoy your family and the food, by all means. Just take a little time to tell Him you appreciate the good things He brings your way.

Blessings to you and yours. See you again next month.

Chaplain Bill

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