Lost amidst the gluten-free stuffing recipes, turkey fryers, and the nixing of family political discussions is the original purpose of the Thanksgiving holiday — to give thanks to God for all our blessings.
However, most Americans are unaware that Thanksgiving as a federal holiday was rooted in war – the Civil War’s bloodiest battle. Following the decisive Union Army victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thursday, November 23, 1863, as a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
By today’s standards, Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation sounds like an eloquent church sermon.
Following Lincoln’s lead, since 1863 every president has issued a National Day of Thanksgiving proclamation. All of these proclamations are fascinating windows into U.S. history, with the president often using the occasion to summarize the national mood.
Especially poignant was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s last proclamation issued on November 1, 1944. With World War II drawing to a victorious close, FDR wrote:
In this year of liberation, which has seen so many millions freed from tyrannical rule, it is fitting that we give thanks with special fervor to our Heavenly Father for the mercies we have received individually and as a nation and for the blessings He has restored, through the victories of our arms and those of our allies, to His children in other lands.
Near the end of FDR’s proclamation, after impressing upon Americans to “give a united thanks to God,” Roosevelt recommends “that we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God, I suggest a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures during the period from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas.”
Today, we cannot fathom a president’s Thanksgiving proclamation recommending a “nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures” for three weeks, without an impending constitutional crisis over the separation of church and state.
Just how far has our nation drifted from collectively embracing the Divine Power of our Judeo-Christian foundation?
By way of an answer, consider President Obama’s 2016 Thanksgiving proclamation, which did not mention the name “God” or “Almighty” in the text. (“Lord” was found on the date as in, “I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-third of the November in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen,” if that counts.)
While Obama’s proclamation “gave thanks for all we have received in the past year,” he neglected to specifically credit God for the source of those blessings:
As we gather in the company of our friends, families, and communities—just as the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag did centuries ago—let us strive to lift up others, promote tolerance and inclusiveness, and give thanks for the joy and love that surround all of us.
Later, Obama masterfully avoided God, writing:
On that very first thanksgiving celebration, these same ideals brought together people of different backgrounds and beliefs, and every year since, with enduring confidence in the power of faith, love, gratitude, and optimism, this force of unity has sustained us as a people. ’
He also proclaimed:
On this holiday, we count our blessings and renew our commitment to giving back.
All nice thoughts, but was it just an oversight that Obama did not mention or thank God in his Thanksgiving proclamation, a holiday designated for that purpose?
Fortunately, God is back in 2017! In fact, President Trump’s Thanksgiving proclamation invokes the name of God five times (six when you count “Lord” on the date similar to Obama’s proclamation.)
Trump’s proclamation begins:
On Thanksgiving Day, as we have for nearly four centuries, Americans give thanks to Almighty God for our abundant blessings. We gather with the people we love to show gratitude for our freedom, for our friends and families, and for the prosperous Nation we call home.
Trump even quotes from Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation:
As President Lincoln recognized: ‘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.’
Lastly, Trump, in a modern twist on FDR’s 1944 proclamation suggesting that the nation thank God by reading the Holy Scriptures from Thanksgiving to Christmas, Trump ends his 2017 proclamation writing:
I encourage all Americans to gather, in homes and places of worship, to offer a prayer of thanks to God for our many blessings.
Regardless of your politics, President Trump deserves thanks for acknowledging and restoring the original meaning and purpose of the celebration on the last Thursday in November.
Happy Give Thanks to God Day, everyone!
Cross posted at BPR