The original proclamation of Thanksgiving


I love Thanksgiving.  The routine is always the same and it is always a joy to me.

As a family we eat fresh baked cinnamon rolls and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  We watch our Detroit Lions lose a football game and then we hurt ourselves with the best meal of the year.  It is wonderful.

Of course, there is a little more to it than just that so let’s go back to the beginning.

President Abraham Lincoln  established the holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863.  Lincolns proclamation was as follows:

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A 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 to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Lincolns words are beautiful and far reaching and set a wonderful tone for our own celebrations.  It really is so much more significant than parades, football and food.  Here are a few things I notice about Lincoln’s words on Thanksgiving that can help us make the most of the day.

1.  This call to thanks was in the midst of national suffering.

The Civil War was in full swing.  It was a time of deep trial for the nation.  Families were ripped apart as brother fought against brother.  The loss of life was extraordinary.  Yet, we were called to Thanksgiving.

Do you feel inclined to thanksgiving in times of trouble?

Probably not.  I don’t, but the call to thanksgiving is both appropriate and necessary.   Why?  Because thanksgiving forces us to deliberately and intentionally take our eyes off of our trouble and realize that there are good things for which to be grateful.  Life is never so dark as to lack any rays of light that can be celebrated.  The beautiful thing is that celebrating these good things has the power to change our perspective and infuse our troubled spirits with hope.

A common practice in the book of psalms is to see the writer drowning in despair over their circumstances but they turn their attention to remembering the powerful works of God in the past.

A transformation happens.

The psalmist begins to hope again.  The psalmist grows in faith.  The psalmist becomes convinced that the God who saved the day in the past can save the day again.  Remembering God’s good works in your life and giving thanks can have that effect in your life too.  See Psalm 77 for a great example of this in action.

2.  This call to thanks was directed to God.

Thankfulness is one thing.  Understanding the one who deserves the thanks is another.  Lincoln recognized that it was our “beneficient Father who dwelled in the Heavens” that deserved our praise.

Let’s never forget that every blessing we enjoy is a gift from God.  I am impressed that Lincoln directly acknowledged our sin.  You see, God is not generous with us because we have earned it.  God is generous with us because he is gracious and merciful.  When I think I deserve all the good in my life, thanksgiving is halfhearted.  When I realize it is all a gift of grace, I am filled with gratitude.

3.  This call to thanks included prayer for the hurting.

The Civil War tore a lot of lives apart.  Men died.  Women were widowed.  Children were left fatherless.  War always does that and the Civil War did it in an unequaled manner.  While we are to be quick to remember those good things for which to praise God, we should be equally quick to pray for those who are in pain and have little to celebrate.

Most of us spend far to much energy focusing on the things that we lack in life, but if we take an honest assessment, we realize that we enjoy great abundance.  If we handle that abundance rightly, it will move us to compassion and prayer and action for those who have less.  As God has been so generous with us, a right response on Thanksgiving is to consider how to be generous with others.

Let’s allow the original proclamation of Thanksgiving be a guide for us as we celebrate our blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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