A national day of Thanksgiving
The American mythological origin of Thanksgiving lies with the Pilgrims and Plymouth. The story we tell is that the residents feasted another year of adaptation and survival beside the native inhabitants.
On October 3, 1789 George Washington proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. For years after that, states set thanksgiving days on their own. Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, tried for fifteen years to get a president to establish a national day of thanksgiving. In 1863, at age 74, Ms. Hale wrote to Abraham Lincoln, asking him to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival…that it may become permanently an American custom and institution. President Lincoln acted immediately, instructing Secretary of State William Seward to write a declaration of a day of Thanksgiving for a nation battered by the Civil War.
Maybe today there are immigrants, combatants, victims and sufferers who greet the holiday with gratitude for another year of survival. In general, Thanksgiving Day is a celebration of what America has become. Our temples are football stadiums and shopping malls. On Thanksgiving our thoughts turn to football games and to the shopping lists that give our lives meaning.
There is as well an undeniable homing instinct in our late-fall American holiday. Displaced, swirling flocks of Americans leave their places for other places–just as the grackles did a week or so ago outside my window. Great grandchildren of immigrants (who were happy to stay home with a roof over their heads and a simple meal on the table) crisscross the country in search of old roots and of moments of transcendent meaning in front of televised games or in wine and cranberries shared. Thanksgiving as an American secular holiday brings our true colors close to the surface. It’s one of my favorite days. I join members of my own tribe, all over the country, taking cover, a safe distance from the holiday roar and rush, for moments of thanks, and for praise of the bittersweet mystery of it all.