This week marks a time when Americans celebrate a uniquely American holiday—Thanksgiving. No other nation marks this time, and as Americans have become accustomed to having a day set aside as a national time of refreshment and rest, the meaning of the season has often been lost on football (also uniquely American), tons of food—turkey ad nauseum--and the beginning of the holiday shopping season.
Even this year, stores cannot wait til “Black Friday,” so called because the day after Thanksgiving on Thursday is the busiest retail shopping day of the year that brings billions of dollars to stores. In 2012, that was a $59 billion dollar day. This year, shopping starts after dinner on Thursday. Has the nation lost its mooring to the original intent of this time?In 1789, George Washington, a freshly minted first President and Father of a new nation, proclaimed a time to be set aside for all Americans to honor God in a time to give thanks for the blessings bestowed on a country that was brand new, and that had just come through almost a decade of war with its former parent nation, Great Britain. Still searching for a new identity as the United States of America, the population of three million new citizens were looking for a cohesive way to make it in the world.
According to The Heritage Organization, following a resolution of Congress, President George Washington proclaimed Thursday the 26th of November 1789 a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” devoted 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.” Reflecting American religious practice, Presidents and Congresses from the beginning of the republic have from time to time designated days of fasting and thanksgiving (the Thanksgiving holiday we continue to celebrate in November was established by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and made into law by Congress in 1941).
In setting aside a day for Thanksgiving, Washington established a non-sectarian tone for these devotions and stressed political, moral, and intellectual blessings that make self-government possible, in addition to personal and national repentance. Although the First Amendment prevents Congress from establishing a religion or prohibiting its free exercise, Presidents, as well as Congress, have always recognized the American regard for sacred practices and beliefs.
Thus, throughout American history, Presidents have offered non-sectarian prayers for the victory of the military and in the wake of catastrophes. Transcending passionate quarrels over the proper role of religion in politics, the Thanksgiving Proclamation reminds us how natural their relationship has been. While church and state are separate, religion and politics, in their American refinement, prop each other up. Here is the proclamation:
Give thanks for both the tangible and intangible rewards you enjoy each day. Teach your children and grandchildren the true meaning of Thanksgiving and why it is such an important occasion. Take time to reflect on your blessings, and why you are thankful. Give thanks to God for what He has provided no matter how much or how little you have. Don’t take it for granted. After all, you could be living in a country that is totally clueless about this time of year. What a shame that they miss all the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Until next time.