Carrie Sheffield on November 23, 2023
Sunday was the 160th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War and a slumping loss for the Union that enabled the Confederate army’s northward advance. Gettysburg has a fascinating Thanksgiving connection.
Like Job in the Bible who suffered devastating loss but remained grateful, President Abraham Lincoln knew we must offer gratitude in the middle of chaos and misery.
Lincoln applied this when in 1863, for the first time in 74 years and during the middle of the tumultuous and bloody Civil War, he called for a day of Thanksgiving and gratitude, even when all seemed broken and hellish. Gratitude is central to our civic fabric. The National Park Service tells the tale:
In July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in more than 50,000 American casualties. Despite these losses, the United States gained a great victory during these three days. On October 3, 1863, with this victory in mind, as well as its cost, President Lincoln issued a proclamation:
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving… And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him … they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
This proclamation is viewed as the beginning of the national holiday of Thanksgiving Day.
I can imagine there were people during Lincoln’s day who took severe umbrage and offense at this notion of giving thanks in the middle of this catastrophic, American Armageddon. For many years following an abusive childhood, that probably would have been me. I likely would have resented Honest Abe.
But now thanks to prayer and healing, I experience the power of gratitude — science shows us that it is a potent weapon against depression, doubt, and fear.
The science proving the power of gratitude is compelling. Managers who remember to say “thank you” to people who work for them may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder, Harvard Medical School reported.
Researchers from University of California, Davis, and University of Miami found people expressing gratitude exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on problems.
A psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania found patients personally delivering a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores.
Harvard Medical School also reported couples who express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person, but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.
What’s interesting about Lincoln’s revival of Thanksgiving is how our country forgot this tradition for many years. America’s “First Thanksgiving” happened after Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. To celebrate their first harvest, they hosted an autumn feast and invited the Wampanoag Indians, the tribe that taught them farming and survival skills.
The Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving in 1621 continued their European traditions. As The National Park Service notes, in “most agricultural societies it has been common throughout history to hold feasts and ceremonies during the time of the harvest.” Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated around the world, from Germany to Liberia, Japan, The Netherlands, and Grenada.
A grateful world is a more peaceful and stronger world. I’m grateful for the patriots who sacrificed for our freedoms in America, and I pray we’ll pass on their remarkable legacy through deep gratitude within untold generations to come.
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