A civil war era woman writing by candlelight

Thankful for Another Thanksgiving

I used to tell my third-grade students, "Thanksgiving is not about eating turkey and pumpkin pie. The purpose of Thanksgiving is to give thanks."

We Americans think we know everything about Thanksgiving - how the pilgrims survived in 1620 with the help of the Native Americans and how they celebrated together with a three-day feast.

Hang on to your cornucopia. There's more. We almost lost Thanksgiving! You probably didn't know that. I didn't until I read the children's book, Thank you, Sarah, by Laurie Halse Anderson and illustrated by Matt Faulkner.

Sarah Hale realized that more and more people were ignoring the celebration of Thanksgiving. People in New England honored the day. When the harvest came in, they'd prepare a nice meal of roasted turkey and all the fixings and invite their kinfolk over to celebrate the day. But not in the South, the West, or the Mid Atlantic States. Thanksgiving was in trouble.

Who was Sarah Hale?

Long before women even had the right to vote, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, 1788-1879, was an editor of the Ladies' Magazine, a popular magazine for American women. When Sarah saw something she didn't like, she picked up her pen and wrote about it. She wrote letters and articles. Sarah wrote after she put her five children to bed at night, writing by candlelight.

Sarah loved Thanksgiving; she thought our country should celebrate on the same day as a family. So our Sarah wrote thousands of letters, asking politicians to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. In addition, she wrote magazine articles asking her readers for help. Guess what? Those busy ladies put down their babies, skillets, and their washing, and they wrote, too!

Thanks to those letters, one by one, the states officially made Thanksgiving a holiday, but Sarah wanted Thanksgiving to be a national holiday. These presidents turned her down: Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan. But, Sarah was persistent.

One last letter

A holiday wouldn't stop the Civil War, but a Thanksgiving celebration could help bring the country together. So Sarah wrote one last letter to President Lincoln; she waited until she received his reply of YES!

In 1863, President Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday for all Americans to give thanks together. It took Sarah Hale thirty-eight years, thousands of letters, countless bottles of ink, but she did it. Sarah was persistent.

How does this story relate to your world? Do you write questions for your doctor, record your appointments on a calendar, do you constantly read about new treatment plans for your blood cancer? I know I do. The worst is when the insurance company says they won't pay for something. We have to be as persistent as Sarah Hale regarding our cancer care.

I love holidays. Not to brag, but I was wearing ugly Christmas sweaters before they were famous. As a young teacher, when I was teaching students with intellectual disabilities, I started wearing outfits to match the seasons to help students understand what holidays we celebrated each month. (It must be February if Miss Connely is wearing her valentines' jumper.) Decorating for an upcoming holiday has always cheered me up.

As I told my students, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, and I am thankful that I am here to celebrate another Thanksgiving.

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