My hope is that all of you are able to spend some time today or this weekend with loved ones and that for those few hours at least you may be able to set aside those things that diminish peace and instead focus on that for which you are thankful.
This Thanksgiving morning I share two writings with you. The first is George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation. You’ll find it to be an interesting view into leadership in the early years of our nation.
The second is a Thanksgiving remembrance from my “When I Was A Boy” series that I wrote some years ago. I don’t believe that I’ve sent it along before but if I have, it may be that you’ll find a blessing in reading it again.
With that, I once again bid you Happy Thanksgiving and God’s peace to you all.
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 and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”
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 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 enable 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 has 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 show kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase 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 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.
When I Was A Boy….
Each fall, a week or two before Thanksgiving, my home church would rent a local school auditorium (most often the Coffin School in Brunswick, as I recall) and decorate it with corn stalks, pumpkins, and other items representative of the season. Colorful gourds and other seasonal embellishments would adorn the tables, which were covered with white cotton cloths and lit by wax candles set in birch-log holders.
It seemed to me that the entire church spent the whole day in preparation for this event – the wives busily baking pumpkin pies, peeling potatoes, mixing stuffing, and preparing the vegetables – the husbands, when not helping with the more generalized tasks in the kitchen, setting up the banquet room, loading and unloading the produce and sundry other items to and from the cars, and running to the store for the inevitable, indispensable, last-minute items.
How exciting it was to arrive at the hall, well before the dinner. My parents disappeared into the kitchen, taking care of final details, while I helped with setting the tables and other preparatory chores. One of the final tasks from year to year was the placing of five hard kernels of corn by each plate, representative of the Pilgrims’ meager meals shortly after their arrival in America.
Finally the much-awaited moment would arrive. The lights were dimmed so only the candles lit the room. The pastor would call us to our places and after a few words of welcome and thanksgiving, would ask the blessing. Then the fun began in earnest.
The men and women who only moments before had been busily finalizing preparations, were now magically transformed into Pilgrim look-a-likes, provided no one scrutinized them too carefully. The women wore medium-gray, ankle-length cotton dresses with wide, white collars and white cotton bonnets. The men wore dark, Pilgrim-style belts and coats with white collars, complimented by black construction-paper hats with aluminum-foil-covered cardboard buckles. Both men and women also wore similar buckles on their belts and shoes. Whereas before they had been occupied with preparations, now they were busy with the serving.
There seemed to be no end to the heaping mounds of mashed potatoes, melted butter puddled at the top and running down the sides, the fragrant succession of casserole dishes with alternating rows of mock chicken and stuffing, the corn, peas, cranberry jelly and sauce; home-baked, warm, whole wheat rolls, and fresh apple cider.
Everyone was happy. Smiles and cheerful conversation abounded, the sounds of talking mixing with those of cup, plate, silverware, and serving dishes as they were put to their intended uses. We talked and ate until the fullness of our stomachs matched the thankfulness of our hearts. And just when we thought there was no hope of holding any more, the servers would arrive with thick slices of pumpkin pie, each one garnished with real whipped cream. Our capacities expanded to match the challenge, and our thankfulness increased accordingly.
As the last sounds of the meal died down and even the talking subsided as a necessary accommodation in light of the expansion of the gastric regions, the program would begin. As nearly as I can recall, most everyone stopped for the program. Those who had been serving and working in the kitchen joined the rest of the people and quietly accomplished their dining while the program progressed.
I confess that I don’t remember much of the program part. Perhaps it was my youthfulness; perhaps it was the contented haze that descends when one has completed such an epicurean endeavor. However, there is one component that stands out in my mind as being inseparable from this event and the pleasantness of the evening.
My dad’s cousin, Hollis Kennedy, dressed in his Pilgrim outfit, would sing, in his clear tenor voice, Bless This House. It seemed as essential and appropriate, even to a boy, as anything that had happened to that point. And it seemed, somehow, to be the musical equivalent of a capstone – the finishing touch without which the evening would have been incomplete.
Finally, when the program was finished and we were once again able to begin to move, the lights were brought up and we set busily about the task of cleaning up and putting away. Everyone lent a hand and the work was completed in short order, sped along by a sense of return for the blessings received and perhaps some puritanical twinge of guilt at having eaten so much and the hope of at least partly redeeming oneself through activity.
Soon all was concluded; the kitchen was clean, the floor was swept; everything was lugged out to the cars. Nothing remained but to head for home, the ride to which, in the dark, frosty cool of the late evening was filled with quiet, contented, reminiscences of the hours just past, emanating from hearts full to the brim with thanks for such simple pleasures and the Godly bounty they represented.