A Wartime Thanksgiving

In most of America nowadays, Thanksgiving is a day of family, food, football and a foretaste of four weeks of shopping. But in some American homes, the holiday retains its religious character: it is a day to give thanks to God for His blessings. And in a special, few American households that have men or women at war, Thanksgiving is a day to thank the Lord of Battles for the survival of loved ones. For those families, Thanksgiving is a day of guns and God. So it was 146 years ago, when Thanksgiving became fixed as an American national holiday — and by no less a man than Abraham Lincoln.

On Saturday, October 3, 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving Day in America went back centuries, to the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation in 1621, if not before. Earlier Presidents had declared Thanksgivings, but Lincoln was the first to set Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday of November. And there it has remained, ever since.

Lincoln acknowledged, in his proclamation, the country’s situation “in the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity,” but he emphasized the country’s prosperity even in a time of war. He wrote:

“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 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.”

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