The woman who rescued Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is usually the response of people to God’s faithfulness in times of extreme need. This was true when the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621 after being blessed with a good harvest and it has been historically true in both personal and national experience.
In 1789, President George Washington issued the first official Thanksgiving Day Proclamation to the infant republic. In this call for national gratitude, he said it was the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and to humbly implore His protection and favor.
Thomas Jefferson broke the tradition of Thanksgiving Day Proclamations, leaving any such celebrations to the desires of the states. Then in 1828, Sarah Hale, the editor of the magazine, “Godey’s Lady’s Book” and the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” began campaigning for the restoration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
Sarah wrote letters to government officials from the President down and sought appointments with them without much success. Time after time she was politely (or not so politely) rebuffed. Finally, after thirty-five years of being turned down, this persistent woman found a sympathetic ear. In 1863, President Lincoln listened with interest to her plea that North and South “lay aside their enmities and strife on Thanksgiving Day.” He proclaimed the fourth Thursday of November to be the official “National Thanksgiving Day.” In 1941 after seventy-eight years of observance by annual Presidential Proclamations, Lincoln’s choice was finally ratified by the United States Congress.
Notice our thoughts have turned to God and the need to be thankful in or following four crises: the Pilgrims had survived a devastating winter in which nearly half of their number had died; Washington’s proclamation followed the birth of the nation and the difficult War of Independence; Lincoln listened to Sarah Hale and acted on her request during the Civil War; Thanksgiving Day was officially ratified by the United States Congress as the winds of war were sweeping across Europe, threatening our involvement and just before the attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged us into World War Two.
What does this tell us? It tells us we’re most likely to think of God and recognize His faithfulness either during or after a crisis. When things are tough we say “Please, Lord!” and afterward we say “Thank You!”
We’re not the first to do so. During a terrible time of tears, Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet” wrote: “It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning, great is Thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
As an old hymn says, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” Too bad so many of us only start counting after being rescued from some near tragedy.
Like Sarah Hale, we should reject spasmodic thankfulness. Every day ought to be Thanksgiving.
Editor’s note: Roger Campbell was an author, a broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. A new book containing over one hundred of his best columns, “Everywhere You Go There’s a Zacchaeus Up a Tree,” is now available at your local or online bookseller. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.