Giving Thanks in the Face of Adversity

11/17/2012 7:00 AM
By Dennis Larison Editor

It’s that time of year again — the time when families gather, raid the pantries of their bounty, serve up sacrificial turkeys and give thanks for their blessings.

It’s a time that has a long history in this country and one that’s usually — though not always — been associated with the harvest season.

For farmers, it’s traditionally been a time to give thanks that the heavy labor of another harvest has ended as well as thanks for the fruit of that harvest.

Many of our farming readers will have plenty to give thanks for on both counts this year, but not all. Some will still be coping with fallout from spring freezes, summer drought and the destruction of storms, including Superstorm Sandy, which wreaked its havoc so recently.

At first glance, it may seem that those affected by such adversity would have less reason to give thanks than others. But looking back on the history of the holiday, there’s a sense that it was just such times of adversity that Thanksgiving was meant for.

Schoolchildren are taught of the difficulties the Pilgrims had in raising enough food to sustain themselves in Plymouth Colony before their first Thanksgiving in 1621.

Less well-known is that the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving in 1623 was celebrated in midsummer rather than at harvest time, after a long rain saved their crops from an early season drought.

Other milestones in the history of Thanksgiving are also associated with times of adversity, especially war. The Continental Congress was facing plenty of adversity in 1777 when it declared a Thanksgiving holiday after taking shelter from its British adversaries by retreating from Philadelphia to York, Pa.

The Revolutionary War was over by the time George Washington designated a Thursday in December as a day of Thanksgiving in 1789, his first year as president when he faced grave economic difficulties and uncertainties about the fate of the new nation.

Subsequent presidents, with some exceptions, revived the holiday from time to time as circumstances dictated.

That changed in 1863 in the midst of the Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as the nation’s annual day of Thanksgiving.

That date prevailed until the Great Depression, another time of severe adversity, when President Franklin Roosevelt attempted to change the date to the next to last Thursday in November to give economic relief to merchants by extending the Christmas shopping season.

That political tinkering with the traditional holiday didn’t sit well with many people, provoking conflicting dates of celebration until 1941, when Congress ended the controversy by enacting a law that fixed the date as the fourth Thursday of November.

However much people have to be thankful for in how closely the outcome of the recent presidential election matched their own preferences, they can all be equally thankful that the election is now over — providing some respite, however brief, from political mudslinging.

Maybe now that Congress has turned its attention from the election back to the Farm Bill and the economic adversities that face this country, the politicians will give us more to be thankful for.

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