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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Come together in Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving provides us the opportunity to pause and remember that for which we truly are blessed.

That may seem difficult at a time when the partisan divide is as great as ever. Washington is in the midst of an impeachment process that has fallen almost completely on party lines, with Democrats moving expeditiously to impeach a Republican president they say has broken the rule of law and Republicans steadfastly arguing that the entire process is a sham, a political stunt by Democrats to try to reverse the 2016 election because they don’t like the results. It’s hard sometimes to keep such political animus from creating bitter divisions within families as they gather at the dinner table.

For those facing just such a quandary today, rest assured knowing that the nearly four-century history of American Thanksgiving celebrations is riddled with people of different ideologies and backgrounds coming together to look past their differences and instead give thanks for that which binds them.

The first Thanksgiving is most often recognized as a three-day festival near Plymouth, Mass., in 1621. It featured English colonists who had come over on the Mayflower celebrating their first harvest with Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribe who had spent the previous months teaching the settlers how to fish, hunt and plant and harvest corn. The festival was repeated in 1623 and thereafter such harvest celebrations soon became a tradition among English settlements. For the settlers, the months prior to the celebration had been brutally difficult, and their relationship with the Wampanoag was vital to their survival in the New World.

During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated days of Thanksgiving and in 1789, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation, calling on Americans to celebrate the end of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the Constitution.

In 1817, New York became the first state to adopt an official Thanksgiving holiday. In the following years, many states, mostly in the North, established Thanksgiving holidays. But the states were not unified in their efforts. Most held the celebration on different days.

Starting in the 1820s and continuing for more than three decades, Sarah Josepha Hale – an author best known for writing the nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” – championed the creation of a national Thanksgiving holiday.

Hale’s advocacy for the Thanksgiving holiday mostly fell on deaf ears until President Abraham Lincoln finally granted Hale’s wish at a time when the country was as bitterly divided as it has ever been. In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln signed a proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be held on the last Thursday of November.

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies,” Lincoln wrote in his proclamation. “To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

Throughout history, leaders like Lincoln have used Thanksgiving celebrations as a chance to set aside differences, heal wounds and share in that which binds us.

As we gather around dinner tables today, may we keep that history close, celebrate our blessings and give thanks for that which brings us together.

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