In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than 200 years, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. But it wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
He was encouraged in that act by one particular woman, prominent 19th century writer and editor Sarah Josepha Hale, who penned “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” who helped found American Ladies Magazine and who, as its editor, turned “Godey’s Lady Book” into one of the most influential periodicals in the country. New Hampshire-born, she grew up celebrating Thanksgiving every year and wrote often about the holiday — in a novel, in editorials and in articles.
She was an ardent advocate of setting aside one day a year to express one’s gratitude, and she was tenacious, too: Hale campaigned for a national day of Thanksgiving to five different presidents over the course of 17 years, until Lincoln finally accepted her proposal.
This year, at Agnes Irwin’s annual Thanksgiving assembly, three students shared what Thanksgiving means to them, much in the vein of that early champion of giving thanks. You can read excerpts of their remarks below.
— Fourth grader Olivia Stephan
— Eighth grader Taylor Carter
So far this year, we have been hit with countless acts of violence and hatred across the globe, from the school shooting in Kenya and the police brutality here in our own country, to the bombings in France. This is the perfect opportunity for us thoughtfully count our blessings and to take steps towards changing the society we live in. No matter how insignificant you think your voice is to the world, you have the power and the ability to make change. We all are in a position to challenge the things we hear and to stand up for what we believe in.”
— Senior Deja Lewis-Nwalipenja
“We may take the holiday for granted, as just a time to gather for dinner — but think about the power of all of us pausing from our busy lives, in the midst of world tragedies and challenges, to come together to recognize our bounty and blessings,” Head of School Dr. Wendy Hill told staff and students at Tuesday’s assembly.
“We have much to be thankful for: for friends and family; for this wonderful school; for terrific students and dedicated teachers and staff; for freedoms and opportunities that others throughout the world do not share. Take the time to give thanks.
But let’s also do more than that this year. Let’s think about the word: Thanksgiving. It is important as a day of thanks, but also a day of giving. Not of material gifts, but the giving of ourselves: The giving of compassion; the giving of kindness and respect for others; the giving of support and our time; the giving of an open heart and an open mind; the giving of hope.
Thanksgiving. May you have a joyous day filled with thanks and with giving.”