This year, I thought I would examine a Thanksgiving tradition with a Presidential connection- The pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey. A common belief is that Abraham Lincoln began this practice in 1863, a story reported by the press two years later. Though this account cannot be verified, it is known that gifts of poultry to the First Family were made beginning in the 1870’s.
In 1947, the American poultry industry began its tradition of giving the First Family a turkey at Thanksgiving as a public relations event for the industry. Officially pardoning the turkey was a sporadic event and the gift birds were often sent to live out their days on a farm or zoo. During the Reagan Administration, the practice of sending the turkeys to a farm became a normal practice. The act of officially pardoning the turkey became standard during the administration of George H.W. Bush and has continued to the present.
The turkey may be oblivious to what a pardon means, though I suspect it might be grateful if it knew that it means that it can gobble for a longer time period instead of gracing the serving platter as the main course for the First Family’s Thanksgiving meal.
The turkey may not understand gratitude, but do humans grasp that idea? It seems that the news in our country is a basket of bad news- crime, disaster, tragedy, scandal and various other social ills. One might get the idea that there is nothing in America that remains for which one can be thankful. Permit me to offer a rebuttal.
Certainly, bad things happen, but I suggest that a citizen can indeed be thankful because he or she IS a citizen of the United States of America. Where else can one go on Earth and enjoy the same rights that we have in America, such as freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion. Consider the persecution of Chinese Christians by the Communist government in that country or the Uighers who are forced by the Chinese government into “re-education” camps. The citizens of Hong Kong have taken to the streets to protest the Chinese government’s attempts to suppress freedoms that were enjoyed in Hong Kong while under British control. The government’s reply has one of force against these protestors.
As you enjoy time spent with your family at Thanksgiving, consider with thanks those in uniform who cannot be with their families this year, protecting our nation and community so we can observe the holiday with our families without fear of invasion by foreign militaries or the threat of violence in our hometown. You and your family can eat your meal with the peace of mind in knowing that if medical, fire or other emergencies arise, there are those who are on duty to provide aid in times of troubles. Instead of being at home with loved ones, eating, reminiscing, watching football or plotting Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping strategies, they stand ready to help in time of need. These are blessings for which to be thankful!
As we sit down to enjoy our Thanksgiving meal, we should include in our prayer of thanks a special prayer of gratitude for those who serve and those who protect us in our country and community.
William E. Plants
URG Chaplaincy Coordinator