This has been a tough year. It feels as though no matter whether your candidate won or lost, we’ve all lost a little bit of ourselves. Many have lost friends, have become estranged from family, have felt threatened or intimidated, or have been overcome by anger and frustration. American elections are supposed to bring out the best of our democracy. This election brought out the worst. It is in this divisive time that we must remember that Thanksgiving – in a sense our most apolitical and secular national holiday – was borne of division. In 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln declared a day of Thanksgiving for all Americans (I’ve posted the entire proclamation for your leisure):
October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. 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. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, 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 the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
This description of the United States would seem foreign to many Americans in 1864. The Country was torn by violence, a million people would be dead by the end of the Civil War. Millions more would be in mourning for the loss of their homes, their livelihoods, and their loved ones, and yet – Thanksgiving.
Yesterday morning on the radio, I heard people from all over this great nation – from Spokane to Houston or Oneida – talk about how they would not be going home for Thanksgiving for the first time in 15, 25, 45, or even 60 years. Each of them cited political strife and disunity as the cause for their choice, yet none of these people sounded happy or proud to make this change. Rather, they all sounded exhausted. It is clear that all of us, no matter our politics, religion, or current predicament, need a respite from what seems like an unending political season. Even here in Northern Virginia, it is not too much to suggest that we simply take a day off. Stop checking the news, stop making underhanded remarks about some political figure or party. Just take a moment to enjoy all of the good in the world. For many, this may be something not done for decades.
So, I propose a simple rule for tomorrow. No politics. That’s all. While this will be most helpful to those with political division at the dinner table, my wife and I will nevertheless be asking our guests to adhere by this rule, even though we believe that they all voted the same way earlier this month.
Let’s have a day of Thanksgiving. Let’s talk about football and theater, about our childhoods and our aspirations, about our favorite recipes and hopes for a white Christmas and a short winter. Leaving our frustrations and divisions and, dare I say, strong opinions behind, if only for a few hours, may help bring us back together, allowing us to remember that we are all a collective people. We are Americans. We are free. And, for that, we should be thankful.