It’s time again for my favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. It’s a time of reflection on the gifts we have received. As Ravi Zacharias writes in his book ‘Recaptured by Wonder,’ gratitude is the first step to wonder. Gratitude does not come easy because it is first and foremost a mindset.
A brief reflection on the start of the holiday is a good place to begin – no, not the pilgrims… but when the day was proclaimed as a national holiday.
In mid-1863, the tide of the war had just turned. Gettysburg was the turning point in early July, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of 1863. On the 4th, Vicksburg fell to Grant after a long five or six month siege. It was a bad week for the South. On one side there was a big turning point in July and things started going the way of the Union, yet at the same time there was a bloody war continuing, and lives were still being lost. These were the brothers, fathers, neighbors and friends of the Union soldiers who were dying, both those fighting for the Union and the Confederate armies.
It would be two more years of unimaginable carnage before the Civil War would end.
In the midst of this difficult time, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday and he did so with these words:
Proclamation of Thanksgiving*
October 3, 1863
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 unequaled 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 defense, 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 Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State*
*Source: The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler.