Sarah Josepha Hale is often referred to as the Godmother of Thanksgiving. This New Hampshire woman, who was born in 1788, worked tirelessly to see Thanksgiving become a nationally recognized holiday in America. Hale was a successful writer and editor and is credited with penning the famous nursery rhyme “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” Hale labored for 17 years to see Thanksgiving become a national holiday, which was finally declared so in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln.
There were two strong themes to why Hale believed this to be a necessary annual event in the life of our nation. One was to draw our attention to God as the source of all blessings. Here is an excerpt from one of her writings to lobby for the holiday.
“THE FOURTH OF JULY is the exponent of independence and civil
freedom. THANKSGIVING DAY is the national pledge of Christian faith
in God, acknowledging him as the dispenser of blessings. These two
festivals should be joyfully and universally observed throughout our
whole country, and thus incorporated in our habits of thought as
inseparable from American life.” (1852)
The other theme was the unifying nature of a holiday focused on giving thanks for a nation that was drifting apart. Here is another excerpt that highlights this concern.
“it would be better to have the day so fixed by the expression of public
sentiment that no discord would be possible, but, from Maine to Mexico,
from Plymouth Rock to Sunset Sea, the hymn of thanksgiving should be
simultaneously raised, as the pledge of brotherhood in the enjoyment of
God‟s blessings during the year.“ (1854)
Of course her emphasis on this point was all too salient as the Civil War began a few years later.
But I believe Sarah Hale understood something important about the nature of giving thanks. To show gratitude to anyone is to acknowledge that we are not self sufficient. To see a whole group of people focused on giving thanks at the same time can have a unifying effect. It takes our eyes off of ourselves and places them somewhere else. It rightly places them on a Holy God and His provision. It acknowledges His self sufficiency and His common grace in sustaining us all. To celebrate this as a national holiday is meant to demonstrate more than a reason for food and family. It is meant to see our need for God and others. Take some time today to consider His blessings, personally and corporately.