Thanksgiving: A Uniquely American Holiday


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Thanksgiving Feature | Washington’s Bayonette

“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—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks.” –George Washington, 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation

“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.” –Abraham Lincoln and William Seward, 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation

America is not only a holiday unique to America; it is a holiday uniquely American.

That is, Thanksgiving, both in its meaning and in its history, represents America at its best, America as it always should be.  Four centuries ago, the Native American Indians and the European settlers gathered together in friendship and harmony and blended their separate traditions and foods, to thank the God Who made them all in His image for His blessings and gifts.

Once the United States had become the United States, George Washington, the Father of our country, was the first to proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving.  The man who refused to become king, thus establishing that Americans only have one king (God), in 1789 called for a day of thanksgiving “to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations.”

Annual Thanksgiving celebrations were not unusual in America after that, but they were not fixed or national holidays (states would often fix their own days).  In 1863, elderly magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale wrote to urge Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, and, in October, Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward proclaimed a national Thanksgiving holiday for the last Thursday of November.

The manuscript of their proclamation was later sold to benefit Union troops, a racially diverse Army seeking to prove that the principles of the Declaration of Independence were true, and that all men are created equal.

Thus Thanksgiving, as a holiday centering around family, patriotism, and pious gratitude to God, as a holiday with a history involving the inspirational acts of individuals of multiple races and both sexes, is truly a symbol of American greatness.

In closing, I would like to share the Thanksgiving prayers written for the Byzantine Catholic liturgy (Mass) in America, because I think they provide a lovely spiritual reflection for Thanksgiving day, as we recall that this holiday is not just about community and food—it really was also meant to be primarily a day of prayer:

“You made the earth, O God, and all it contains.  You have given us a share in your life.  All creation sings praise to you.  As our forefathers gave thanks to you after coming to these shores, we, your unworthy servants, also give thanks on this day for all your benefits bestowed throughout the years.

Today, O faithful, sing to God your thanksgiving hymns; learning Scripture’s command to give thanks with heart as well as lips, and to seal heart and lips with blessed deeds.  Let America play her thankful part among the nations, giving praise to our saving Lord, the benefactor of our souls.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

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