As you pull your chair up to the common table we call Thanksgiving, take a look down the long table that goes back almost four centuries, and take note of some of the other folks seated at this historical table with you.
Generations of Americans have gathered at this table—at least as far back as the year 1621, when the Pilgrims celebrated what we sometimes call the “first Thanksgiving.”
Set a place for George Washington at the table—the first President of the United States, who a scant five years after the end of the Revolutionary War declared the first National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789. Even while the divide between British loyalists and the American revolutionaries was still being repaired, the country found reasons to sit down together and celebrate their shared good fortunes.
Scan forward a few years and it should be easy to see Abraham Lincoln finding his place at this table. It was the 16th President who, in the midst of the U.S. Civil War, called for a National Day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated “with one heart and one voice by the whole American People” on October 3, 1863. With the terrible bloodshed of Gettysburg still fresh in mind, and as the war dragged on to its conclusion, Lincoln recognized the common table where our shared history could be told and the survival of the country as one United States could be celebrated.
Maybe you can see President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who signed the 1941 law that established that the Federal Holiday of Thanksgiving be observed throughout the United States on the fourth Thursday of November. In spite of the war that was enveloping the world during that time, the American people were steadfast in their gratitude for the blessings of life and freedom—and the celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday had already become an important moment that brought Americans together.
And seated alongside these statesmen and politicians who helped solidify Thanksgiving as the national holiday we now observe are the millions of Americans who have celebrated it across the years. Thanksgiving is for all of us—in cities and towns, on farms or in factories, to be celebrated by all Americans wherever the holiday finds us.
This year, I will count among my blessings the opportunities that we have shared this year to be of real service to our communities. I give thanks for the way our work is blessed each day, and for how we have seen and felt a Divine presence guide our endeavors and abundantly provide for all those things that help us fulfill our mission.
At Thanksgiving, may we each be truly appreciative and grateful for all the ways we have seen God’s providence and blessing—individually, within our families, in our communities, and in our work together.