The Free Press, Mankato, MN


November 28, 2013

Remember origins and intent of Thanksgiving

Why it matters: Today is the day we give thanks for what we have and not what we want.

Today, many of us will be busy in our kitchens or traveling to them preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family with an abundance of food, spirited conversation and the background noise of college football games.

It’s a day off from work for most of us — although that respite in the retail world is slowing slipping away. And it’s another national holiday the origins of which have faded amid the increasing din of commercial messages. We think it’s time to take a moment and remember what brought us here.

In our early commonwealth, settlers gave thanks often, whether after a bountiful harvest or were simply days Pilgrims set aside to thank God for providence.

The first civil rather than religious observance of Thanksgiving has been cited as July 30, 1623 when Gov. William Bradford of Plymouth, Mass., declared the celebration after welcoming rains, successful farming and just before the arrival of supply ships — all following a nearly catastrophic drought.

These were hard times and on that occasion when a glimmer of good would appear, they stopped and gave thanks. There was no set day and up through the 18th century many colonies observed days of thanksgiving at different times of the year.

On 1789, following the end of the Revolutionary War, newly inaugurated President George Washington proclaimed the 26th of November of that year as a day when the people of the new nation should thank God “especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” Many but not all presidents afterwards would declare a day of Thanksgiving.

Then on Oct. 3, 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanks, in hopes it would help heal the wounds of the nation and give “praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

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