"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God." -- Abraham Lincoln, proclaiming a national day of Thanksgiving
Lincoln made this proclamation in 1863 while the nation was still fighting a bloody Civil War. He had been lobbied to do so in print and in personal letters by a persistent woman of solid New Hampshire stock -- Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the popular Godey's Lady's Book magazine. Rarely has a magazine editor had such an influence over the acts of a President (though the founder of O Magazine seems to have the current president's ear) and it's safe to say that presidents don't make speeches like that anymore (though the current Chief Executive does have a way with words).
Today we may not be fighting a war between the states, but it seems there's a conflict going on within the American family. Maybe it's time we all sat down for a common meal and heard some words that would remind us just how good we've got it. That's probably what Hale was hoping for, and it's what Lincoln delivered when he offered this first "grace" to inaugurate the national holiday of Thanksgiving.
Lincoln's words may sound a bit stuffy by today's standards. Sadly, in our ever more casual society, you don't hear much that qualifies as formal use of language any more. Even in the pulpits, where vestiges of old English were preserved by traditional scriptures, the translations have been modernized and many of the sermons have grown flip and ironic.
Thanksgiving is not immune to the trend. Local class clown turned movie mogul Adam Sandler penned "The Thanksgiving Song" when he was a performer on Saturday Night Live and he included it on his first LP, "They're All Gonna Laugh at You." Here are some of the lyrics:
"Turkey lurkey doo and turkey lurkey dap, I eat that turkey then I take a nap.
Gobble gobble dee. Gobble gobble dockie, I used to go to camp at Lake Winnipesaukee."
Don't get me wrong. I love Adam Sandler's humor probably more than a grown man should. I'm as sarcastic as the next guy, but it's hard to set up a real zinger without a straight man, and when everyone is cracking jokes the laughter gets thin. As independent as we've all become, it's still comforting to hear words that carry authority, set forth a covenant and contain principles on which you could stake your life.
So in this year that's drawing toward its close, which has been filled with fruitful fields and healthful skies, take a moment to count your blessings. Whether you are grateful to God or to Mother Nature or just thankful that the family and friends around the table are willing to put up with one another long enough to hold hands and bow their heads, maybe this year is a good year, in your own words, to say grace. Finding a sweet spot somewhere between Lincoln and Sandler shouldn't be too hard.
So on behalf of Abe, Sarah, Oprah, Barack, Adam and everyone here at New Hampshire Magazine, a happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
This article appears in the December 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine