By Gino Blefari
Today, I want to talk about Thanksgiving. We as human beings, Americans and yes, members of the HSF Affiliates and HomeServices of America, Inc. families, work very hard and always maintain a strong work ethic. Yet, as busy as we get, there are times when it’s important to step back, reflect and be thankful for all we have and all of the people in our lives we’re blessed to have around us. There are many reasons why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday (and no, it’s not just the food coma and football) but I want to share one story that is particularly meaningful for me as we approach Thanksgiving Day:
When we think of Thanksgiving, there are certain things that immediately come to mind: the scent of pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes baking in the oven; the sight of a golden, just-roasted turkey being carried to the table; the image of our family, gathered happily as we prepare to eat. Some with history on the brain might even think of the pilgrims, our distant ancestors who, in 1621 after the first harvest in the New World, dined with almost 90 Native Americans for a three-day feast now known as the “First Thanksgiving.”
However, when we think of Thanksgiving, most do not think of Sarah Josepha Hale. As the person credited with turning Thanksgiving into a celebrated national holiday, we should.
Hale, born Oct. 24, 1788 in Newport, NH, was a writer of fiction and poetry, (among her poems, a short rhyme called “Mary Had a Little Lamb”). In addition to crafting popular verse, Hale was also a devoted advocate of American unionism and campaigned relentlessly for Thanksgiving to be recognized as a national holiday.
So important was this gathering to the passionate Hale that she begin in 1846 to write letters to anyone with an address and a healthy dose of patriotism—powerful governors, ministers living abroad, navy Commanders, five American Presidents—urging them to make Thanksgiving a holiday uniformly celebrated throughout the United States during the last week of November. At the time, Thanksgiving was commemorated at the discretion of each state; sometimes in October, sometimes in January but never on the very same day for all and Hale saw this as a missed opportunity to strengthen national character through tradition and routine.
Finally, after 17 years of Thanksgiving campaigning and a polite but direct letter to then-President Abraham Lincoln, Hale was heard:
“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with blessings of fruitful fields and healthy skies,” wrote Lincoln in a proclamation called ‘Thanksgiving Day 1863.’ “It seems to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving.”
So, what’s the message? Sarah Josepha Hale, a lesser-known character in the story of Thanksgiving, was a visionary leader who understood the importance of congregating together over pumpkin pies and turkey because it means precious time spent with family and friends to celebrate every happiness and bounty in our lives. And for that, we should all give thanks.