2016-11-23 / Columns

Cultural Connections:

From Tin Horns to Twitter
by Joan Lawrence-Bauer

If there’s a reader among us who doesn’t know the story of the first Thanksgiving, we’d be hard pressed to find him or her. The stories of the Native Americans and the Pilgrims – while perhaps lacking in detail or accuracy, have been told and re-told so often that they bind us as Americans.

A story less told, but relevant now, is how we came to celebrate Thanksgiving as we have in the United States every year since 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of a raging Civil War, proclaimed, “A national day of ‘Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,’ to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.”

Between the first Thanksgiving in 1621 and the first as a national holiday in 1863, the story of our country was writ large by immigrants who were at first welcomed and then feared by the natives already living here. Many settlers came by choice from countries across Europe. Some came to find new trade routes and trading partners. Others came seeking religious freedoms. Still others came seeking new beginnings after lives of failure and ruin at home.

Dragged from homes

Many came not by choice, but by force; dragged from homes and lives in Africa and other continents to serve as slaves who would build much of the new country’s prosperity. In nearly a century, between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, the country grew rapidly, often on the backs of those slaves, then later by the latest immigrants; Irish, Italian, Asian, Central and South American, Mexican. People came from all over the world. They came to live the dream and in so doing, made the country more than many ever dreamed it could be.

Just a half-century after that great Civil War, the country was renewed, reunited and resolved; ready to take on not one but two world wars. America had created a nation of strength not from homogeneous bloodlines but from the distinct skills and traditions of its multi-ethnic inhabitants.

Seemed like wishful thinking

Lincoln’s proclamation might have seemed like wishful thinking in 1863. He noted, “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.”

The president was grateful that despite the Civil War, the country had grown and that no other country had created additional conflict. Lincoln suggested in his proclamation of the holiday, that Americans show, “humble penitence for our national perverseness,” and look to “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, tranquility and Union.”

Good time to remember

Perhaps Thanksgiving 2016 is a good time to remember not just the first Thanksgiving, but the first time it was celebrated as a national holiday. As we eat from the bounty of the mountains around us and purchase the wares sold in local shops, it might be helpful to remember that our grand experiment has evolved in fits and starts for nearly 500 years, nearly half of which came after a major revolution. With the re-dedication of each of us to the ideals we hold so dear, this nation will continue to be a beacon to the world; the place where immigrants want to come.

Cultural Connections is sponsored by @catskillstylehome.

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