Our American Holiday
To The Reader’s Forum:
Since 1863, when it was announced by President Lincoln, Thanksgiving has been an official American holiday. It is uniquely American, almost as much as the 4th of July, and it has become all about families getting together and celebrating our common freedoms in this country.
Sometimes we forget how deeply religious and spiritual this proclamation was. It was to be a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” Proclaimed during the violence and anguish of a national Civil War where thousands had already been killed and more thousands would die, it asked citizens to acknowledge “our national perverseness and disobedience” and thank God for “singular deliverances and blessings.”
The last sentence ended with hope for a better time: we “fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
So, part of what makes Thanksgiving my favorite holiday, is that it has these noble and deeply-embedded aspirations. It has become a time when families gather to remember the fundamentals of the Nation they live in as well as just the pure joy of being a family.
In my view, it is also the most relaxed of any of our national celebrations. There is no gift-giving to worry about, it doesn’t really matter exactly what time Thanksgiving dinner will be, the shopping can wait until the next day, kids can go outside and toss a football or hike in the woods, adults can just hang out and wait for the football games to begin on TV or tune in to the Macy’s Day parade in New York.
The dinner in our family is always the same: turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash, cranberries, pumpkin pie for dessert and a tasty old recipe from my wife’s grandmother that we call “green surprise” … a gelatin-based salad that has marshmallows mixed in. Why we don’t have this delicious cuisine more than once a year — I really don’t know. But, then, there is only one Thanksgiving Day.
At the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, there is a magnificent, imposing, marble sculpture created by Daniel Chester French where Honest Abe is seated in a chair with arms extended looking out over the country “for whom he saved the Union.” It is a powerful image. Around this time of year, I can almost visualize Lincoln gazing out at that same Nation saying: “I am pleased that we created Thanksgiving Day for the people of the country. It has become all that I could have hoped for, and it appears that they are remembering it well.”