Commentary

From the heart

Thanksgiving’s roots precede Pilgrims and proclamations
We get treated to unsolicited history lessons every year about this time as people who think we care try to prove either that the Pilgrims’ 1621 Thanksgiving wasn’t what we thought it was or that it wasn’t really the first.

That might matter if Thanksgiving were one of those holidays which only celebrate the date, or importance of, a battle, a treaty or a change of dynasty.

Thanksgiving, like the Fourth of July, like Juneteenth, is an observance in the heart and has always been so.

It was so in 1565 when Spanish explorers held what may have been a “thanksgiving” near San Augustine, Florida. It was so in 1578 when explorer Martin Frobisher did the same in what came to be Nova Scotia and it was so in 1619 when the founders of Berkley Hundred in Virginia put a thanksgiving celebration in their colony charter.

And yes, it was so in 1621, when 53 Pilgrims and about 90 Native Americans gathered in Massachusetts for the capital-T Thanksgiving we can close our eyes and see.

For the next 175 years there were plenty of thanksgivings in plenty of places. The first fully national one was proclaimed for Nov. 26, 1789, when President George Washington asked a new nation to “acknowledge with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.”

Seventy-four years later, President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as an annual national holiday. Lincoln looked back on a year that included Gettysburg, Chancellorsville and Vicksburg and said “the year drawing to a close (brought) blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.”

He asked Americans to give thanks “despite the lamentable civil strife in which we are unfortunately engaged.”

Lincoln, being Lincoln, always took the long view. He told Americans in 1863 “the country...is permitted to expect continuance of years with a large increase in freedom.”

That would be us, the America of 2010, a place with lots of problems, sure, but also one of freedom and bounty unimaginable to Americans of 147 years ago.

Unimaginable to everyone except Lincoln that is. Happy Thanksgiving. From the heart.—M.B.


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2010-11-25 digital edition



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