In 1830, Sarah Josepha Hale published a poem called “Mary’s Lamb.” We all know it today as “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
Now what in the world could a children’s poem have to do with our month of gratitude? I’m so glad you asked!
Ms. Hale was much more than a poet. She became editor of Godey’s Lady Book which, by the time of the Civil War, was one of the most influential periodicals of its time. She helped found Vassar college for women and worked tirelessly to preserve Bunker Hill and Mount Vernon as national monuments.
But it was Ms. Hale’s upbringing in New Hampshire that brings her into our focus this morning. As many families did since the very earliest days of our republic, her family celebrated a day of thanksgiving each year to celebrate the fall harvest and to give recognition to the many blessings bestowed upon the settlers and residents of the young nation.
George Washington called for several days of thanksgiving during the war and his presidency to honor the blessings of America. It was not uncommon for people all across the United States to celebrate a day of harvest thanksgiving.
But, it wasn’t until Sarah Josepha Hale wrote and pressed President Abraham Lincoln, did the US government move to set aside the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.
It took a Civil War—a time of great moral and political divide in this country—to instill in the highest offices of the land an idea that by giving thanks, we could, as a collective people, understand how little our differences mattered and how great our commonalities as mankind did matter.
Both sides of the war—Union and Confederate—celebrated Thanksgiving in the years of the war. And, today, while we often think of the original Mayflower Puritans who gave thanks to God for what limited bounty they had—and shared it with local natives—as the root of Thanksgiving, the fact we have a national day of collective thanks is due to the fortitude and compassion of an amazing women, Sarah Josepha Hale.
As we move into this year’s Thanksgiving week, I can’t help but think of the similarities facing Abraham Lincoln as he signed the holiday proclamation. A nation divided against itself. Fire and brimstone rhetoric from all sides declaring theirs is the most right and noble. And race being a significant component of the political discourse. On top of that, Lincoln was overseeing a war. Our war against an invisible virus is costing American lives, as the Civil War did 160 years ago.
We need Thanksgiving now as much as ever. We need, as a nation, to come together and give thanks for all we have, not focus on what we don’t have.
You and I need to do the same thing, as well. This Thursday, whether you join a virtual thanksgiving or celebrate with family and friends, offer your loving energy to the world—to all of us—as true gratitude for all your blessings and joy. Don’t quality your thanksgiving, either. Be all in on thanks.
For only with gratitude, can we ever truly see what we truly are and truly have.