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The meaning of Thanksgiving

This Thursday, families across the nation will gather together at the table to give thanks for the things we have been given. Thanksgiving Day is a venerable and much beloved holiday. In colonial times, it was primarily a harvest feast in which the colonists offered thanks for a good harvest, sometimes by feasting, sometimes by fasting. The first national day of Thanksgiving was declared by the Continental Congress in November 1777, following the Colonial victories over British General John Burgoyne in the Battles of Saratoga. Twelves years later, President George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation under the new Constitution, proclaiming a day to be devoted to “public thanksgiving and prayer.” Thanksgiving did not become an annual tradition, though, until Abraham Lincoln set aside a day of thanks in 1863 to celebrate the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Since then, every American president has followed suit and given a Thanksgiving proclamation.


A new tradition for Thanksgiving?

For the Fourth of July, many Americans read the Declaration of Independence before taking in the fireworks. Our friends at What So Proudly We Hail suggest a similar tradition for Thanksgiving Day: Why not discuss a classic American short story or a presidential Thanksgiving proclamation this holiday (or better yet, both) around the dinner table?

To help get the conversation started, the editors recommend O. Henry’s “Two Thanksgiving Gentlemen” and George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789. (They note that Washington’s proclamation, in particular, is short enough for a dramatic reading before dinner.) Some possible discussion question for each text are available at WhatSoProudlyWeHail.org. Happy Thanksgiving!