While presidents before Abraham Lincoln often delivered Thanksgiving proclamations, he made it a national holiday in 1863. It might seem odd to some modern readers that Thanksgiving reached a pinnacle during America’s bloodiest conflict, but those that are the most in need understand. Trials, affliction, and humility remind us of our dependence on the grace of God.
One of the defining moments of my own life was living abroad. For the first time, I recognized previously unimaginable poverty and despair. Still, at a young age, I recall being overwhelmed and wondering why it wasn’t meant that I was the one sorting through giant trash piles for sustenance?
Ultimately, I don’t know the answer, but it helped ground me in gratitude during serious health challenges, and the other disappointments life can bring. “We should bow in gratitude to God for His many favors,” wrote Calvin Coolidge in his 1925 Thanksgiving Proclamation.
Thanksgiving should remind us of sacrifice, not just abundance. A few days before Thanksgiving in 1943, when Americans had ration cards, over 1,000 Marines were killed in the vicious Battle of Tarawa in the South Pacific. Just a few days after Thanksgiving, parents across the country would soon receive Western Union telegrams telling them a son had died trying to take a tiny atoll from the Japanese.
I’m thankful for books where I can learn about the great history of this nation and its heroes.
I recently saw an embarrassing cable news report slamming the entire tradition of America’s Thanksgiving holiday, and of course, “whiteness.” The whole notion of politicizing gratitude and the thankful spirit is meant to tear people apart – the goal of ideologues. The anger of ideologues never seems more out of place than in the seasons we are supposed to celebrate our gratitude.
Occurrences like that remind me of what it truly means to be thankful and to depend daily on the blessings of God and not the wrath of politicized man. Why would we let the overly angry and politicized rob us of our joy?
These days, part of my daily ritual includes thanking our Lord for the two healthy boys I have right now. My mind inevitably gravitates to those who are suffering from sick or deceased children. Truly, my heart goes out to them.
Thanksgiving should be about lessening the burdens of those around us, too. “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other,” wrote George Eliot in the novel “Middlemarch.”
While I was doing some research for Thanksgiving this week, I discovered the story of George Dallas in Cleveland, Ohio. Dallas, a successful restaurateur, fed those who had fallen on unfortunate times. Dallas, called the “Thanksgiving Santa Claus” by the Cleveland newspapers, fed thousands of residents starting in 1924 and through the Great Depression. He provided meals for 10,000 residents in 1932.
I’d be thankful to have a legacy of giving like Dallas.
Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of Carolina Journal and a research fellow on Second Amendment issues at the John Locke Foundation.