11.26.2020 – It’s Not Just About Covid

For many of us, Thanksgiving Day is the best holiday of the year.  Family. Food. A time to pause and remember and give thanks.  But Thanksgiving 2020 is not going to be a traditional Thanksgiving. The family circle will be smaller. Sure, there will be food, but the family members who always bring the pumpkin pie or the cranberry salad won’t be with us this year. No other pumpkin pie will be quite as good and, frankly, we might as well pass on cranberry salad if it’s not that cranberry salad.

As for thanks, we’ll be tempted to cast blame rather than to offer thanks. We’ll blame a heavy-handed government or fate or maybe even God for a Thanksgiving that is not going to be what we planned. If we’d been given a choice, we would have skipped all that 2020 has brought to our favorite holiday and so much more.

We cast blame rather than offer thanks at our own peril.

2020 is about Covid and lockdowns, the election and George Floyd. 2020 is about all sorts of things not going according to our plans. 2020 is about death and loss. But even in 2020 we are able, indeed, we must, give thanks.

We rightly date the first American Thanksgiving to 1621 and that harvest feast enjoyed by the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation and their Wampanoag friends who had helped them so much. Only 50 of the original 102 Pilgrims had survived their first year on the shore of Cape Cod Bay.  Still, they gave thanks. Edward Winslow wrote to friends back in England, “And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

Our fourth Thursday in November Thanksgiving tradition began in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln’s presidential proclamation.  It is printed in full at the end of this post.

Lincoln acknowledges the pain of 1863 – the loss and the sorrow of a “civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity.” He also recounts the bounties of that same year, “the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.” With sober remembrance, he says of the blessings of the year, “They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

1621. 1863. 2020.  Three years. A year difficult for the people of Plymouth Plantation, a year difficult for the United States, and a year difficult for the whole world. We need not compare the difficulty.  Difficult years. Perhaps, though, the Pilgrims of Plymouth and our greatest president might remind those of us living through 2020 of the importance of giving thanks – and not just thanks for, but thanks to. Thanks to God. Thanks for bounty even in the midst of loss. If we don’t offer thanks, we will cast blame, and blame is poisonous.

2020 is not just about Covid and lockdowns, the election and George Floyd. 2020 is not just about all sorts of things not going according to our plans. 2020 is not even just about death and loss no matter how close it has come to us. Even in 2020 we are able, indeed, we must, give thanks.

One of our new friends in Auburn (shout-out to Chad Gramling) challenged his social media friends to share one reason for which they are thankful as Thanksgiving Day 2020 approached. I don’t know most of those who replied, but reading their comments was so encouraging. Even in 2020, maybe especially in 2020, we must give thanks. Thanks for and thanks to.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

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 unequalled 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 defence, 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 United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln