Editor’s Word: The Thanksgiving Lady

I enjoy fall and, particularly, Thanksgiving. This holiday has increasingly become a precursor to Christmas, but it is a great national celebration in its own right with a solid Christian origin.

Around 50 million people will travel at least 50 miles to have a Thanksgiving Day meal with friends and/or loved ones. Approximately 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey as part of their meal. It is a time, in spite of the turmoil and tension in our nation, to simply be thankful for the blessings of God. That was the original intent, and it is still viable today.

Many of us may call to mind the 1621 gathering of 50 Pilgrims with 90 Wampanoag tribesmen, a harvest celebration that lasted three days. Whether we mark that date as the beginning of our Thanksgiving tradition, or other dates predating or following it, the journey of Thanksgiving through the years still rests on the foundation of thanks to God for His blessings.

Sarah Josepha Buell Hale was a persistent and determined woman who worked diligently to make Thanksgiving a legal, permanent and national holiday. She spent 36 years campaigning, writing letters, lobbying, and using her influence as editor of the leading lady’s magazine of the time to push for a national Thanksgiving Day holiday. Finally, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation for the nation. He followed Sarah Hale’s advice and chose the fourth Thursday in November for the holiday.

She had previously written: “Thanksgiving Day is the national pledge of Christian faith in God, acknowledging him as the dispenser of blessings.” Following Lincoln’s second proclamation in 1864, she wrote: “It is the peculiar happiness of Thanksgiving Day that nothing political mingles in its observance. It is in its very nature a religious and domestic holiday.”

Presidential proclamations continued through the years. The fourth Thursday of November wasn’t always the day for the holiday, although that was the day Sarah promoted. In 1871, she started a new crusade in an effort to persuade Congress to enact a law making the fourth Thursday in November a national holiday. She continued writing Thanksgiving Day editorials until 1875. It wasn’t until her latter years that she discovered that president George Washington had issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation in 1789 — for the last week in November. She passed away at age 91 in 1879.

In 1941, Congress voted to make Thanksgiving Day a permanent national holiday to occur each year on the fourth Thursday of November. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill on Nov. 26.

Sarah Hale was married for nine years when her husband died of a stroke. At age 34, she was left to raise three sons and two daughters, ages 2 weeks to 7 years. She worked as a writer and became the first female editor of a periodical for women called Ladies Magazine, which later merged with another magazine to become Lady’s Book. Along the way, she wrote an enduring nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Hale was a Christian who adamantly opposed slavery and tirelessly worked for educational opportunities for women. She died before her dream of a national Thanksgiving holiday was law, but her diligence prepared the way for it.

Thanksgiving Day is a great holiday, and giving thanks is a biblical command. Psalm 91:1 says: “I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart.” We can all thank God for the example of Sarah Hale and gratefully praise God for simply being our great God.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day!