The Mother of Thanksgiving

The time was September in the year 1863.  Our country was ravaged by the Civil War and most recent in the minds of Americans was the bloody struggle in a small farming community in Southern Pennsylvania called Gettysburg.  Every person and community had been touched with a loss of family or friends in the war.

A prominent women’s magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, sat down to write again about the need for a national day of thanks.  Sarah’s magazine, Godley’s Lady’s Book, was the most well know at the time.  Sarah, born in 1788 in Newport, New Hampshire, went into publishing after the death of her husband in 1822.  She wrote novels on the side of editing the magazine and even had time to write a little children’s poem you may have heard of: “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  She was an ardent supporter of girls receiving an education.

Sarah worked for the magazine for 40 years and seeing the publication grow to a circulation of 150,000.  The periodical published works of prominent writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edgar Allen Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.  She was well known for her persistence. 

In 1827, she began a campaign to establish a national day of thanks.  Her writing went on for decades without the fruit she had desired.  Oh, there were and had been Thanksgiving celebrations throughout the United States.  Some special days of thanks had been declared by presidents and other leaders of states and before that, the colonies.   But no, consistent, national holiday that was set on the calendar each year had been established.  That was until her editorial in September 1863.

The subject struck a chord with President Lincoln and the people of the North.  Her editorial was published in the wake of the Union victory at Gettysburg.  The moment was ripe as the victory had a huge effect on the public sentiment regarding the war.  In October 1863, Lincoln established a permanent day of thanksgiving on our calendar.  His proclamation stated:

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that God’s gifts of prosperity and freedom, should be solemnly, reverent, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.  I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and the those 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.”

Sarah’s long, 36-year campaign had become a reality.  Since that time, apart from moving the date during the Great Depression, the last Thursday in November has been our national Thanksgiving holiday.  In many ways, she is the mother of our Thanksgiving Day we have today. 

Thanksgiving has always been a special holiday for me.  It represented times when our family would get together and we celebrated with extended family and had reunions around that time as well on both my father and mother’s sides of the family.  It was wonderful to spend times with cousins, watch football, and enjoy the huge spread of food.  A tradition my wife and I started in our family is to cut down the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving and decorate the house that weekend. 

Thanksgiving embodies a spirit that we should have every day.  A failure to be grateful, reveals a prideful heart, one that does not recognize the blessings God or the help that others around you provide every day.  Ingratitude advance a lie that we think we can make it on our own. 

In addition to the many blessings of faith, family, and friends, we at Pactola are thankful to every person and institution we work with.  Perhaps you have been a part of a large commercial loan, or maybe you have a small credit your local plumber needed.  Maybe you have attended one of our classes, read an article, or had us help write your MBL policy.  In some cases, you have provided us lessons to make us better, as we are always seeking to improve.  In any of these situations and more, we thank you for your support.  We would not be where we are without each and every one of you. 

When I think of Pactola, I am also thankful to God, who gives me far more than I deserve.  In addition to all of you we work with or who have touched our lives, we have a tremendous staff who bring credit smarts and creativity to the office each day.  We have also grown and touched lives across the country and we look forward to the future with great expectation of new blessings we will be thankful for then.