Americans riveted by the House impeachment hearings might welcome a break over Thanksgiving. In theory, the holiday is a time to wrestle a turkey bone rather than the Trump administration. It is a time to revel in family and friends rather than one’s favorite fibbers and foes. It is a time, as Pilgrim father Edward Winslow described that post-harvest day in 1621, to “rejoice together.”
In particular, this year’s Thanksgiving needs a bit of shared joy along with the gratitude and grace. According to an October poll, 2 out of 3 voters say the United States is on the “edge of civil war.” Independents are even more worried than partisans about the political divide in the country.
Swords are not being drawn yet. But words are. Personal incivility may be at an all-time high in today’s cut-and-parry politics. If words were swords, the political landscape might look like a turkey carcass late on Thanksgiving Day.
In 2019, the most quintessential of American holidays is a time to sheathe the words of rancor. And it is a time to recall why Abraham Lincoln turned what was once a sporadic national occasion into a regular event that draws people together to practice the core meaning of the holiday.
In 1863, during the darkest period of the Civil War when the Union was at stake, Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation served as a call to love one’s enemies. He asked that God’s “gracious gifts” be “acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.” With that purpose set in motion, the holiday easily persisted as a tradition.
Perhaps more than the Pilgrim story – with its troubling meaning for Native Americans – Lincoln’s moment of proclaiming Thanksgiving would be a better historical marker in the 21st century. He saw the giving of thanks, and the humility it requires, as a healer of a broken constitutional order in a democratic society. Gratitude helps open doors to consensus and harmony. G.K. Chesterton called it “the highest form of thought.”
This Thanksgiving could serve as an opportunity to lift thought for the next round of impeachment proceedings.
That alone would be worth rejoicing.