Thanksgiving in a pandemic
Sarah Josepha Hale, more than a couple of decades, never wavered in her campaign to make a day of Thanksgiving a national holiday. Beginning in President Zachary Taylor’s administration (1849-1850), she wrote a letter to the president to make her case. Finally, after unanswered letters to Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, with Abraham Lincoln, she struck gold.
On Oct. 3, 1863, President Lincoln issued this proclamation:
“The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible.”
Lincoln issued an executive order to make every last Thursday of November a national holiday. Thanksgiving was given a permanent observation, the fourth Thursday of November, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Two things in this slice of history grab me. One is the persistence of Sarah Hale. She had a cause that she was convinced was righteous and refused to give it up. She practiced the maxim that educator Thomas Palmer included in his 1840 Teacher’s Manual to encourage schoolchildren not to give up on their homework: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Two, Lincoln issued his call for a day of Thanksgiving in the wake of the Battle of Chickamauga. Barely two weeks earlier, Federal forces had suffered 16,170 casualties and Confederates 14,674 casualties. We could totally understand a call for a national day of mourning.
Seriously, how can we, in 2020, while a pandemic keeps on turning our lives inside out, be thankful?
As in every year, we should express grief over what we have lost but not forget to express gratitude for what we have left.