Thursday, November 17, 2016

Grateful for this Thanksgiving -- Nov. 17, 2016 column


A friend tells me she’s still very sad. The election was a “slap in the face of decency,” and she can’t forgive her sisters and their husbands for voting for Donald Trump.

Another friend has trouble sleeping. A third said she’s stuck in election denial.

“It cannot be as bad as we can imagine,” she wrote in an email, adding, “Yes it is.”

Nearly 62 million Hillary Clinton voters are as gloomy as the nearly 61 million Trump voters are jubilant. 

Into this maelstrom of emotions comes the holiday devoted to carbs, calories – and gratitude. What -- now?

Yes, bring on Thanksgiving. We have rarely needed it more. 

We can’t always agree about politics, and shouldn’t. But we can use the pause in our daily routines to gather together, give thanks for what we have and share love with family and friends.
We’ve been giving thanks since before we had a president or a country. Massachusetts and Virginia still squabble over where the first Thanksgiving occurred. The Pilgrims’ celebration of the harvest and survival with about 90 Wampanoag Indians was in 1621, two years after Virginia colonists marked their safe arrival with a day of prayerful thanksgiving.
In 1789, George Washington signed a proclamation declaring a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” for the new government. Other presidents followed, with a few interruptions. Thomas Jefferson refused to issue a Thanksgiving proclamation because he saw it as a conflict of church and state.

It took a decades-long crusade by Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, to bring the national holiday into being. She wrote her first editorial on the subject in 1837.

Thanksgiving “might, without inconvenience, be observed on the same day of November, say the last Thursday in the month, throughout all New England; and also in our sister states, who have grafted it upon their social system. It would then have a national character, which would, eventually, induce all the states to join in the commemoration of `Ingathering,’” she wrote. 

With foresight, she added: “It is a festival which will never become obsolete, for it cherishes the best affections of the heart – the social and domestic ties.”

After many more editorials and through Hale’s persistent appeals, more than 30 states and territories had Thanksgiving on their calendars by the 1850s.

Because Hale never gave up, our national Thanksgiving holiday was created at a time even more divisive than ours. She finally persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to issue a proclamation in October 1863, as the Civil War raged.

Lincoln put out a call to “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.”

Secretary of State William H. Seward, not Lincoln, actually wrote the proclamation, although Lincoln signed it. Seward’s original manuscript was sold a year later to raise money for Union troops, according to Abraham Lincoln Online.
The holiday was celebrated on the last Thursday of November by tradition – until President Franklin D. Roosevelt thought he’d boost retail sales by moving Thanksgiving up a week in 1939, from Nov. 30 to Nov. 23. An uproar ensued, and some states celebrated two Thanksgivings. Two years later Congress set Thanksgiving in law as the fourth Thursday.
Today we know that practicing gratitude – and not just on Thanksgiving -- is good for us. Hundreds of academic studies have found physical, psychological and social benefits in gratitude – from lower blood pressure to less loneliness to more optimism.

Gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received,” Robert A. Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, wrote in an essay for Greater Good, a University of California, Berkeley, website.

Emmons, a leading authority in the study of gratitude, said by practicing gratitude, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.”

Some things haven’t changed in 400 years. Happy Thanksgiving.

©2016 Marsha Mercer


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