I love Thanksgiving!
The day traces its origins back to the Pilgrims -- those hardy pioneers who arrived on the shores of North America and, against all odds, carved a nation out of the wilderness. They came to the New World not seeking fortune, but freedom. Specifically, they sought freedom to worship God as they wished.
As the name makes clear, it's not about turkeys or football, parades or pumpkin pies. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks to God for the blessings we enjoy. Thanking God for His blessings was a routine experience in our early years.
The first official National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was issued by the Continental Congress on November 1, 1777, in celebration for the victory against the British at the Battle of Saratoga.
In October of 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued a formal proclamation calling on the country to observe the last Thursday of November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."
And as America confronted a world at war in 1941, Congress voted to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday observed on the fourth Thursday of November.
Continuing that tradition, presidents since have issued Thanksgiving Day proclamations and special messages. Below are excerpts of President Ronald Reagan's Thanksgiving address to the nation, delivered 30 years ago this week in 1988.
"We Americans have so much for which to be thankful. Think of the great expanse of our nation, the rolling hills of our immense farmland. . . the plows and the sweat of America's farmers call forth from our good Earth more food than we can possibly eat. . . Millions of children across all the continents are happier, healthier, and stronger because of America's farmers.
"Now, think of our manufacturing centers. . . Almost every American industry is zipping along at near-full capacity. A few years ago, journalists were calling the Midwest the Rust Belt. Now the Boom Belt would be more like it. . .
"But prosperity is not an end in itself. It helps us pay attention to the more important things: raising our children as we want them to be raised, helping others in need, and bringing nations together in peace. . .
"Yes, peace is another thing for which we can say a prayer of gratitude over the dinner table on Thursday, peace and abundance in this land that God has kissed. We will give thanks for these and one thing more: our freedom.
"Yes, in America, freedom seems like the air around us: It's there; it's sweet, though we rarely give it a thought. Yet as the air fills our lungs, freedom fills our souls. It gives breath to our laughter and joy. It gives voice to our songs. It gives us strength as we race for our dreams.
"Think of those around the world who cannot bow their heads in prayer without risking their lives. . . And then think of how blessed we are to be Americans. Yes, as we gather together this Thanksgiving to ask the Lord's blessings . . . let us thank Him for our peace, prosperity, and freedom."
Tomorrow, when Carol and I celebrate Thanksgiving with our family, we will give thanks for America, for our men and women in uniform and for you – each and every one of our cherished friends and supporters who make our work possible.
We wish you all of God's blessings at this special time of year.