THANKSGIVING Day is a very important day for us Americans as we come together with our families by sharing a special meal, and offering our prayers and gratitude for all the blessings bestowed upon us and our beloved nation.
This national holiday dates back to 1621, the year after the Pilgrims from England arrived in Massachusetts, in search of freedom, safety from persecution and the dream to give their family a better life in this newfound land of promise and opportunities that was to become the United States of America.
They had a rough and bitter first winter, and the History Channel reported that most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease, which killed about half of them.
These colonists (pilgrims) were saved by the goodness of the hearts of the Native Americans who welcomed them, fed them, taught them how to plant crops. The next autumn’s bountiful harvest inspired the Pilgrims to give thanks by holding a feast with the Native Americans. This tradition has been passed from generation to generation as the Pilgrims got settled and started their new life in America.
The History Channel wrote that during the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year, and in 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States; in it, he called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His successors John Adams and James Madison also designated days of thanks during their presidencies.
But how did it become a national holiday of celebration? According to the History Channel, a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale — the noted magazine editor, prolific writer and author, among countless other things, of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” — launched a campaign in 1827 to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years, she published numerous editorials and sent scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians, earning her the nickname the “Mother of Thanksgiving.”
“Abraham Lincoln finally heeded her request in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, in a proclamation entreating all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day every year until 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s plan, known derisively as Franksgiving, was met with passionate opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.”
The significance of this day and the reason why this has been celebrated since the time of the Pilgrims/colonists from Europe is something we, Filipinos in America, can identify with. In fact, this is a shared sentiment of all of us American citizens because we have all been pilgrims from our own respective countries who uprooted ourselves from our own Motherland to give our family a better life. We are all immigrants who took the leap of faith in the promise of America.
While the continued threat of the coronavirus may change the way we celebrate this day, the somber feel of this year’s holiday season invites us to be introspective about those values that matter most in our — our health and safety, our family, our peace and unity, our democracy, and the promise of America helping us realize our American dream.
We have had it easier compared to the Pilgrims and those in many generations after who fought in wars and paid the ultimate sacrifice just to defend us, protect our lives, our democracy, the light of the promise of America so each of us may fulfill our American dream.
But it is important for us to realize that each generation of Americans has its own challenges, and therefore, its own unique opportunity to fulfill our responsibility to help keep the promise of America and make it a more perfect Union.
Our generation is now being called to rise up to the challenges of our time and do everything we can within our power to soldier on in our war against the coronavirus: wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid crowds, and abide by all public safety measures to protect our people and save our lives.
Our generation is now being called to rise up and soldier on and fight for our democracy, our democratic institutions and processes, armed with our faith in God and in each other’s goodness, with our commitment to the truth and our solemn creed to abide by the Constitution.
We are in a defining moment of our lives as Americans. We have all been blessed in our adoptive country that is the United States of America. To whom much is given, much is required. In gratitude, let us strive to go far and beyond the tradition of giving thanks and feasting with our family.
Let us heed the call for our generation to save our lives in the war against COVID-19, and to call out and have the enemies from without and within be made accountable to protect and save our cherished democracy. This is our way to help make the United States of America a more perfect Union that we can proudly and faithfully pass on to the next generations.
Together, we pray like Lincoln and ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”
Have a happy and purposeful Thanksgiving Day!
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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.
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Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989 with ABS-CBN and is now serving the Filipino audience using different platforms, including digital broadcasting, and print, and is working on a new public service program for the community. You may contact her through email at email@example.com, or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos.