On October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation of thanksgiving that Thursday, November 26th of that year, should be set aside as a day of thanksgiving for the people of the United States. That marked the first national observance of a day of thanks and it was observed each year for several years, but eventually the tradition faded away. Seventy-four years later, on the exact same day as Washington’s original proclamation, October 3rd, President Abraham Lincoln issued a new proclamation of thanksgiving. Like Washington, Lincoln proclaimed that Thursday, November 26, be set aside as a day of national thanksgiving. The year was 1863. Thanksgiving has been celebrated annually since then, but did not become a legal holiday in the United States until 1941. In 1939, President Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to one week earlier than it had been, in an attempt to make Christmas shopping begin earlier and bolster the economy in those latter days of The Great Depression. In 1941, in response to a public outcry over the President’s moving of the holiday, Congress named the fourth Thursday of each November as our national day of thanks.
When President Washington issued that first proclamation of thanksgiving, our nation was only thirteen- years old. The Revolutionary War had ended only six-years earlier. Those were not easy days of high living. When President Lincoln issued his proclamation of thanksgiving in 1863, we were in the middle of The Civil War – arguably the worst war in our nation’s history. When Congress made Thanksgiving a legal national holiday, Europe was the midst of war, but we were not involved yet, but that would quickly change. A little over two-weeks later, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and we were involved in World War II.
As you can clearly see, with each of the beginnings of our national holiday called Thanksgiving, we were either on the heels of war, in the middle of war, or on the brink of war. In spite of those facts, we the people of the United States paused to give thanks to God Almighty for His blessings. For most of this current year of 2020, we have found ourselves in a war of a different sort. This war is not being fought against a nation of foreign oppression, or states against states within our own nation, but an invisible enemy has waged war on us. This killer coronavirus has brought about a third world war, so to speak. It is not a war where soldiers fight against other soldiers, but one that has us fighting to stay well and alive none the less. It is a war that has killed over a million people worldwide and over 256,000 in the United States. This figure is higher than the American death toll of any war we have fought. It is a war that has shut down a nation, our churches, businesses and schools, for a period of time, and still limits our abilities to be together, to shake hands or even be too close.
In spite of this terrible plague and the casualties it has caused, like those great Americans who have gone before us, we must still pause on the fourth Thursday of November to give God thanks for His abundant blessings. We are still blessed beyond measure. Sadly, many will go to bed hungry, even on Thanksgiving; however, most of us have more than enough to eat every day. Most of us enjoy not only the necessities of living, but the luxuries of good living. Yes, we have much for which to give thanks, even in 2020...even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Happy Thanksgiving to each of you!
— Bill King is a native of Rainsville, where he and his wife graduated from Plainview High School. King is a director of missions in Opelika, a writer, musician and author. His column appears in the Times-Journal weekend edition. Visit brobillybob.com for more information.