While this isn’t an article on books, it is a reminder to readers (and writers) that history, storytelling, and reading stories has power. All can change lives, open closed minds and hearts, offer different perspectives that might be just what’s needed to see things more clearly. We’re also reminded, since the heart of story (fiction or nonfiction) is squarely on people, even if they’re fictional characters, it’s imperative that we understand people, their goals, motivations and conflicts. In those insights and revelations, we grasp and shape identity—that of the storypeople and of our own. And with that collective wisdom, we comprehend and appreciate the treasure in tradition.
What we learn from those who came before us, how embracing those traditions served us, gives us a firm hold on who we were, are, and who we choose to be. That solves a lot of potential crises. So what can we learn about Thanksgiving? What in it is significant?
To answer those questions, we must ask, “What does Thanksgiving really mean?”
Time typically confuses things, and right now we’ve an abundance of confusion. Many say we’re neck-deep in a national identity crisis. So rather than discuss the confusion, let’s call on the wisdom of truth. Reacquaint ourselves with it—unfiltered—by returning to the man who officially established our nation’s Thanksgiving holiday.
In 1789, on Thanksgiving Day, George Washington issued the following Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, beginning a tradition in the United States of America that is celebrated still today.
Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor – and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States 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 – That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks – for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation – for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war –for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed – for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
“And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions – to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually – to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed – to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord – To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us – and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
“Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Insight. Truth. Tradition. Wisdom. Great fodder for characters in stories, and great character fodder for people.
May the traditional spirit of Thanksgiving be a blessing to you and yours. And in times that try souls and make us weary, may we remember to hold fast to our traditions—our identity—and to attitudes of gratitude.
For all our flaws and challenges, ours is an exceptional nation of exceptional people. We might lose our way at times and we forget who we are. But we are fortunate. We have the treasures of traditions and history to remind us.
This Thanksgiving, may we recall who we are, whose we are, why we are who and whose we are. And may we feel to the depths of our souls the value of knowing each and every day.