By Sarah Hale, 1868
From Countdown to Thanksgiving by Amy Puetz Fox
“Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
Such was the order given to the people of Israel, for the celebration of one of their religious festivals. We learn from this that a day of yearly rejoicing and giving of gifts was not only sanctioned but enjoined by divine authority on God’s chosen people. Such yearly festival is not positively enjoined on Christians; but that it is both expedient and beneficial may safely be argued, when we find that the practice was approved by our God and Father in heaven.
Our day of thanksgiving represents, in many striking coincidences, the Jewish feasts. Only make our day national, and we should then represent the union of joy that was the grand proof of the Divine blessing. Such social rejoicings tend greatly to expand the generous feelings of our nature, and strengthen the bond of union that binds us brothers and sisters in that true sympathy of American patriotism which makes the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans mingle in our mind as waters that wash the shores of kindred homes, and mark from east to west the boundaries of our dominion.
One of the coincidences to which we have alluded is the custom of giving gifts, and “sending portions to those for whom nothing is prepared.” I venture to assert that there is not a public institution of any sort, charitable or reformatory, hospital or prison, which is not remembered at this time by a plentiful dinner, liberally provided by our citizens.
The Creator has so constituted humans that their minds need a moderate portion of amusement as imperatively as the body at times wants stimulating food. This re-creative joyousness, this return, if you please, to the happiness of childhood, is good for the soul. It sweetens the temper, it brightens hope, increases our love for each other, and our faith in the goodness of God. There are individuals and nations who, from an unhappy state of things, never “drink the sweet nor eat the fat,” but drag on a miserable and starved existence.
God intended that all our faculties should, in the right way, be exercised, and neglect of such exercise changes us to incomplete creatures. Our busy, wealth seeking people require to have days of national festivity, when fashion and custom will call them to the feast of love and thanksgiving.
The editress of the Lady’s Book has for the past twenty years been in the habit of urging upon the attention of its readers and friends, year by year, the plan of a National Thanksgiving Day.
We suggested the last Thursday in November, as the most suitable day to set apart by the governor of each state for this festival, which would then become a national jubilee. This time was selected because then the agricultural labors of the year are generally completed, the elections over, those autumnal diseases which usually prevail more or less have ceased, and the summer wanderers are gathered to their homes. We have received letters approving this Union festival from governors of nearly every state and territory who had, before the war commenced, approved the idea although all had not acted upon it.
Thanksgiving day has been an establishment of custom, not a law; without state legislation, there cannot always be unity among the governors. In 1862, all the states which observed the day, united upon the last Thursday in November, except Massachusetts and Maine: these two held their Thanksgiving the first Thursday in December, because it was the anniversary of the separation of Maine from the parent state.
Is it not a better plan to have, in the first instance, the day appointed by a proclamation from the President of the United States? As head of the nation, as well as the chief of the army and navy, the authority rests with him, and by his action on this point perfect certainty of unity of observance would be secured.
The way is already prepared: the last Thursday in November has been observed as the American festival day for the last five or six years, not only on our own shores, but by Americans in European cities, and wherever our countrymen could meet together—on board our fleets in the Mediterranean, African, and Brazilian stations; by our missionaries in India, China, Africa; and in 1860, it was observed by our countrymen in Japan, and also in Constantinople, Berlin, Paris, and other places.
Our late beloved and lamented President Lincoln recognized the truth of these ideas as soon as they were presented to him. His reply to our appeal was a proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November, 1863, as the day of national thanksgiving. President Johnson’s Proclamation for the National Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November, 1866, was observed over all the country. Thus the family union of states and territories in our Great Republic was fixed and hallowed by the people in the ninetieth year of American Independence.
No one can doubt the effect upon us, as a nation, of acknowledging God, at least once in a year, and returning thanks to Him publicly for the infinite mercies so lavishly bestowed upon us. Nor only upon ourselves is this influence. Such an observance by us will not be unfelt by the nations of the Old World. There is something peculiarly beautiful in seeing a great people, of the most varying creeds and opinions, bound by no established faith, thus voluntarily uniting throughout our wide land to mingle their voices in one common hymn of praise and thanksgiving. Thus, and thus only, can we show to the world that America is indeed a Christian Republic.
Everything that contributes to bind us in one vast empire together, to quicken the sympathy that makes us feel, from the icy North to the sunny South, that we are one family, each a member of a great and free nation, not merely the unit of a remote locality, is worthy of being cherished. We have sought to re-awaken and increase this sympathy, believing that the fine filaments of the affections are stronger than laws to keep the union of our states sacred in the hearts of our people.
We believe that our Thanksgiving Day, if thus fixed and perpetuated, will be a great and sanctifying promoter of this national spirit. Our whole people will then look forward to it—make preparations to honor and enjoy it.
I have thus endeavored to lay before my readers one of the strongest wishes of my heart, convinced that the general estimate of feminine character throughout the United States will be far from finding it an objection that this idea of American Union Thanksgiving was suggested by a woman. The enjoyments are social, and the feastings are domestic; therefore this annual festival is really the exponent of family happiness and household piety, which women should always seek to cultivate in their hearts and in their homes. God gave to man authority, to woman influence: she inspires and persuades; he convinces and compels.
It has always been my aim to use my influence in this womanly way. And now I feel, that, under the blessing of God, I am indebted to the efficient aid of good and patriotic men, who have accomplished this idea of establishing the last Thursday in November as the set time for the people of the United States, wherever they may chance to be, to celebrate and hallow as the American National Thanksgiving Day.
Copyright 2015 Amy Puetz Fox