Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Best Wishes for Thanksgiving Day

For almost 150 unbroken years, beginning with Abraham Lincoln in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, each President has issued a Thanksgiving Day Proclamation.  

The Proclamations have come in both bounteous and trying economic times, in times of peace and in times of war.  All the Proclamations urge Americans to step back from the immediacy of life and pause to remember how much we have to be thankful and grateful for.  It's a good habit to cultivate - and not just once a year.  

Cultivating a Heart of Thankfulness:  Our lives, like the life of our nation, are a mixture of joy and sorrow, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty, wholeness and brokenness, community and loneliness.  May we, in the midst of all that comes our way in life, remember this Thursday the many blessings we enjoy from a gracious God.  May we learn to live in the moment each day - cultivating a heart of thankfulness for all the good things in our lives.

Kennedy's 1963 Proclamation:  On November 5, 1963, just weeks before his untimely death in Dallas, Texas, President John F. Kennedy issued his third and last Thanksgiving Day Proclamation as president.  I've included the text of his Proclamation below.  The headings are mine to make it easier to read.


Colonial Forefathers: Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God.

George Washington: So too when the colonies achieved their independence, our first President in the first year of his first Administration proclaimed November 26, 1789, as "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty god" and called upon the people of the new republic to "beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions… to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue… and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best."

Abraham Lincoln: And so too, in the midst of America’s tragic civil war, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November 1863 as a day to renew our gratitude for America’s "fruitful fields," for our "national strength and vigor," and for all our "singular deliverances and blessings."

The Passage of Time: Much time has passed since the first colonists came to rocky shores and dark forests of an unknown continent, much time since President Washington led a young people into the experience of nationhood, much time since President Lincoln saw the American nation through the ordeal of fraternal war - and in these years our population, our plenty and our power have all grown apace. Today we are a nation of nearly two hundred million souls, stretching from coast to coast, on into the Pacific and north toward the Arctic, a nation enjoying the fruits of an ever-expanding agriculture and industry and achieving standards of living unknown in previous history. We give our humble thanks for this.

Ideals of Honor and Faith: Yet, as our power has grown, so has our peril. Today we give our thanks, most of all, for the ideals of honor and faith we inherit from our forefathers - for the decency of purpose, steadfastness of resolve and strength of will, for the courage and the humility, which they possessed and which we must seek every day to emulate. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.

Gratitude for Blessings: Let us therefore proclaim our gratitude to Providence for manifold blessings - let us be humbly thankful for inherited ideals - and let us resolve to share those blessings and those ideals with our fellow human beings throughout the world.

A Day of National Thanksgiving: NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOHN F. KENNEDY, President of the United States of America, in consonance with the joint resolution of the Congress approved December 26, 1941, 55 Stat. 862 (5 U.S.C. 87b), designating the fourth Thursday of November in each year as Thanksgiving Day, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 28, 1963, as a day of national thanksgiving.

The Great Unfinished Tasks: On that day let us gather in sanctuaries dedicated to worship and in homes blessed by family affection to express our gratitude for the glorious gifts of God; and let us earnestly and humbly pray that He will continue to guide and sustain us in the great unfinished tasks of achieving peace, justice, and understanding among all men and nations and of ending misery and suffering wherever they exist.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States of America to be affixed.

DONE at the City of Washington this fourth day of November, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and eighty-eighth.

John F. Kennedy
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