This is a guest post by an attorney and dear friend of mine, Gilbert Harrison Berger (he ran for Commonwealth’s attorney in Orange in 2011 as discerning readers of this blog will remember!):
Thankful for having the opportunity to have a day of thanksgiving.
When you are a young child and grow up surrounded by holiday events and traditions that you experience – but mostly as an emotion, you are not necessarily given the chance, due to cultural reality, to option out of the event. It is not that you would not want to experience the event even if you fully knew the reasons and history behind it. Simply, as a young child, understanding, knowledge, and the ability to overrule parental authority, are very limited realities. For better or worse (mostly better in my youth) you just roll along with the experience as you routinely do during childhood. Besides, what child rejects any tradition when it is filled with seasonal excitements crammed full of celebrations, special foods – particularly desserts, and shared appreciations for the occasion among family and friends? Thanksgiving, the holiday, was such an experience for me.
If you grew up in an area where you enjoyed all of the majesty of the changing seasons, then I suspect that you can relate to what I refer to as “Thanksgiving time.” A time and season when your senses are dazzled with a backdrop of fall color changes exploding everywhere where there was once green foliage. It is a time when cooler to colder temperatures begin to alter your outerwear options. It is a time when morning frosts and first snow falls flirt with crops and cars alike. Advancing through the month of November is a march of emotions fresh off of the trick-or-treating Halloween holiday. A countdown of days begin on the calendar for “that day” when the festive, feasting hour will occur. But, most importantly, it is a time when our sense of smell is on full alert in anticipation of those wonderful smells that will emanate from the kitchen, where all sorts of the finest selection of desserts, salads, vegetables, casseroles, relish trays, breads and meats are arrayed; the greatest and most prized of all: the roasted turkey.
I remember back to when school would be closed (but not for long enough). There would be the plotting and planning for one’s place in the T.V. room to reserve, or fight over, the best viewing seats for watching the annual, epic, television event; the balloon filled pageantry of the Macy’s – New York – Thanksgiving Day Parade. Later in the day when football games pacified our waning energies, we wound down from all the activity centered on the preparing and devouring of that feast. Though overwhelmed with food and fun it was a rare occasion when the focus of the holiday shifted from the festivities to that of a thoughtful reflection of the history surrounding the event. At school, we would be told of stories of pilgrims from the old world, who ventured across an ocean with a hope of planting a promise of a better life upon the shores of a newer world. Stories of the native people with whom they engaged and to whom they owed a great deal of thanks for their survival. As it has been passed down through history, the story goes that these two peoples gathered together upon invitation of the pilgrim settlers for an occasion to celebrate and give thanks to God for their success in the new world. To my surprise, I have recently learned that that first Thanksgiving was an event that lasted three days and had been attended by 90 natives and 53 Pilgrims (Wikipedia sources). However, it was President Lincoln, in combination with President F.D. Roosevelt, who can be credited with the fourth Thursday in November as the recognized holiday for our Country. (Wikipedia sources). But, I cannot say that as a child, and as I passed through my school years, that I ever learned that we credit our first President, George Washington, with establishing a “recognized” day of thanksgiving to God. Again, crediting Wikipedia, I found that “on October 3, 1789 … Washington made the following proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
This year – we, in our tradition, can look back over almost 400 years of history in this new world. We can still celebrate, with those willing to unite in celebration, a holiday of thanks to God as did our Pilgrim ancestors. Despite the outcome of an election, as divided as we may appear to be, we can all choose to peaceably and honorably strive to keep and improve upon, in peaceful and respectful ways, a form of government that ensures our safety and happiness. I choose this year to echo the proclamation of President Washington and to be thankful for having the opportunity to have a day of thanksgiving. “George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. October 3, 1789”.
“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease [sic] of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.” (George Washington Papers. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2008-01-26. Source Wikipedia.)