It seems strangely ironic and yet appropriate that the official proclamation of Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday should occur in the middle of the bloodiest crisis in our nation’s history. The year was 1863 and after almost three years of brutal fighting there was no evidence that an end to the war was in sight. In that year several significant events had occurred that would eventually shape the nation’s future. In January Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring that all slaves in the rebellious states were now free and in July the Army of Northern Virginia’s attempt to invade the North and thereby gain an alliance with Great Britain was crushed during a three day battle in and around a small Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg.
The nation was in the midst of a terrible crisis with its very future hanging in the balance when Abraham Lincoln made a proclamation setting aside the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving. Clearly Lincoln did not associate thanksgiving with the absence of crisis, problems, uncertainty, anxiety, fear or worries about the future. Instead, thanksgiving was the willingness to stare reality in the face and still declare that life was good, that there were blessings to count, that there were reasons to be thankful. Thanksgiving was not denying a terrible crisis existed, it was declaring that out of that crisis a better future could be shaped and that, somehow, the willingness and ability to be thankful in the midst of the crisis would offer people the hope and the perspective needed to create a different and better future when the crisis had passed.
Here is Lincoln’s Proclamation…and the hope that we too can find reasons to be thankful and thereby shape a better future when our crises have passed.
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