I can’t begin to explain how much I love Thanksgiving. It is a quintessentially American holiday, it revolves around the dinner table, which is the heart of my home, and it is a day designed to make us mindful of all the sacrifices involved in settling the New World, establishing our independence as a nation, and building the strong traditions which make America the freest society in the world.
The first Thanksgiving was conducted around a table not unlike the ones in our dining rooms in Southern Missouri. That event, in Plymouth, was a celebration of the autumn harvest. The bounty of the land was brought to a feast, to be shared by the whole community. That event marked the Pilgrims’ relief at having survived a year in a new land, despite many hardships, and it gave them reason to be optimistic about their future in America.
That Thanksgiving is a historical reminder to us of how our agriculture is linked to our prosperity as a nation. The cooperation of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people underscores the importance of our community in everything we undertake to make life here in America good, as well as to remain optimistic about our future.
Thanksgiving became an official U.S. holiday under very different circumstances when President Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving amid the strife of the Civil War. That year, I imagine American families, torn apart by war and grief-stricken at the absence or loss of family members and close friends, had to struggle to find reasons to be thankful. The Thanksgiving tables of 1863 must have been solemn and prayerful, marked by a fervent hope that the war would end and our communities would survive – even if our nation did not.
The Pilgrims prayed for survival. The Thanksgiving families of the Civil War era asked that they be spared from the destruction of war in their own country. We face neither of these fears today, because of the sacrifices of Americans who came before us.
But we do have an obligation to bow our heads at the Thanksgiving table and be grateful to all of those who sacrifice to keep our country strong and free. At my table, we pray for Americans in uniform, the people working hard in our communities, the inspirational members of our families, and the students who labor to better themselves through education – dreaming big so that they can add their own chapter to the prosperity of our nation.
To say our nation is blessed is an understatement of enormous proportions. We have endured trials and overcome strife, we have built feats of engineering and accomplished great advancements, and we have given much to the world and secured our own place in it. All of this was done by Americans, by people who considered their country as something bigger than themselves.
Page 2 of 2 - Only by keeping our desire for freedom and our love of our nation alive will we assure that future generations share in that dream at their Thanksgiving celebrations. Our nation has come a long way, and we have a long way yet to go.