Reflecting on the History of the Holiday
Wed, 11/25/2020 - 1:33pm admin
Sen. Mike Cunningham (R-33)
As Thanksgiving Day approaches, symbols of the holiday are all around us. A plump roasted turkey, Pilgrim hats and a cornucopia of fresh produce stir imaginations of a storied gathering of settlers long ago. The 1621 harvest feast at Plymouth Plantation probably wasn't truly the "First Thanksgiving," but the legend of potential adversaries joining together to celebrate God's blessing is comforting. Just as the Pilgrims welcomed their neighbors and gave thanks despite great hardships, we also express appreciation for the bounty we have received.
The tradition of a national day of Thanksgiving first took hold in 1789 with a proclamation by George Washington. In 1863, during the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of each November to be an annual day of Thanksgiving for the entire nation (the date was later changed to the fourth Thursday). As I reflect on the history of the holiday, I am particularly impressed by President Lincoln's 1863 proclamation. During a time when brothers took up arms against brothers, he saw hope in America. He observed "the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies," took note of the nation's progress beyond the battlefields and expressed heartfelt appreciation for "our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." What an example President Lincoln set for us. Even during times of unspeakable heartbreak, he gave thanks, and encouraged all Americans to do the same.
America is experiencing a new kind of heartbreak this year. COVID-19 appears to be spreading at an alarming rate in many parts of America. Fear of the virus threatens to disrupt one of our most-treasured holiday traditions. For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time to gather with friends and family. Sadly, some families may decide to forgo family celebrations this year out of an abundance of caution over the virus.
We may celebrate Thanksgiving differently this year, but the spirit of the holiday need not be lost. We can still fellowship with loved ones, even if we meet over the phone or on a computer screen. We may not hug as much as we have in past years, but we can still express our love. And just as we do every Thanksgiving, we can still share our bounty with those less fortunate. In fact, the need to give to others is probably greater than ever.
On Thanksgiving Day, we bow our heads and lift our thoughts to the heavens, giving God credit for our many blessings. I thank God for the beauty all around us ̶ especially in this wonderful part of southern Missouri I call home. I also give thanks for America. We are blessed to live in a country where we are free to pursue our dreams and worship as we see fit. Giving thanks may not come easily for some Americans this year. That's understandable, but I hope we can all find something to be thankful for.
The words Lincoln wrote more than 150 years ago still ring true today, though the circumstances of our strife have changed. Just as he implored all Americans to give thanks, despite a brutal Civil War, we too can count our blessings in an age of disease, economic upheaval and political differences. As he said, we can "commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers . . . and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation."
I hope everyone has a joyous Thanksgiving. I wish you all good health and happiness for the holiday. Be safe and stay hopeful, giving thanks to God for your blessings.
It is my great honor to represent the citizens of the 33rd Senatorial District. Although the Legislature has adjourned for 2020, I remain your senator throughout the year. If there's anything that I can do to assist you, please feel free to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.