Short story writer, novelist, and essayist Cynthia Ozick is credited with the quote, “We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” For what are you thankful? To what or to whom do you offer your gratitude on Thanksgiving Day?
I propose we should offer gratitude first to that which many of us have taken for granted in the 21st century: that we take the time as Americans — at all — to be thankful. If our forefathers had not had the foresight to proclaim the fourth Thursday in November as an annual day of national thanksgiving, tomorrow would be just another busy day of rushing around, failing to stop and ponder the bigger questions of America’s overall prosperity and success and offer thanks for them.
My Dad said, “Some days you just can’t make a nickel,” referring to the reality that we scurry about in our busy lives thinking we have made “progress” and nonetheless at the end of the day we find it has been two steps backward and only one step forward. Thanksgiving could have been just another day of barely making a nickel were it not for the vision of the founders and succeeding leaders.
Regardless of the contention by some that secularism was a founding principle of America, the founders peppered religious legislation throughout their writings and laws, especially as it related to thanking God for the blessings of liberty. Thanking God had and has to be done because a founding principle of our liberty is that the God-given right to govern is vested in the sovereign authority of the whole people, and since God grants these rights, only God can take them away. Man cannot take away our liberties because he did not and does not grant them. America was the first nation in the history of the world to proclaim these facts.
The Continental Congress, that body that governed the United States before our present Constitution was adopted, offered the following proclamation in 1782: “(We) request the several states to interpose their authority, in appointing and commanding the observation of Thursday the twenty-eighth day of November as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving to God for all His mercies; and (we) do further recommend to all ranks to testify their gratitude to God for His goodness by a cheerful obedience to His laws … which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness. ...”
Seven years later, President George Washington made the following proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day on Oct. 3, 1789: “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, (I) recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”
Then on Oct. 3, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln made the following proclamation (written by Secretary of State William Seward): “(We) should solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledge as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. ... .”
So as of Thursday, Thanksgiving Day has been celebrated every year in America since President Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863. Let us, then, be thankful that we have seen fit as a people to recognize our prosperity as a nation is the result of divine liberties that are not man’s to take away.
We too often, though, take this day for granted. Regardless of whether we make a nickel or not, gratitude humbles us and helps us to appreciate the larger force to which we are indebted. As American author and journalist E.P. Powell is quoted as saying, and we need to remember: “Thanksgiving Day is a jewel to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day and leave out the gratitude.”
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.