Season of Gratitude celebrates 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Thanksgiving declaration: Please, come to this table with us!

On this anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s enactment of what is now our annual Thanksgiving holiday, many of us feel it is time to redefine the holiday to ensure that all Americans can be thankful for the diversity of peoples who are now united on these shores. Under the phrase, Season of Gratitude, and the logo of a beautiful autumn tree, we are calling for Americans to talk about our gratitude for such a diverse nation.

Lincoln pointed us in this direction when he defined a new kind of American Thanksgiving “in the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity.” The idea of branding a national holiday was audacious for an embattled president presiding over just half of a war-torn nation. This was long before modern media would allow Norman Rockwell to redefine Thanksgiving in 1943. (That’s when his painting of a turkey dinner, Freedom from Want, was splashed across the Saturday Evening Post in the midst of another great war.)

Lincoln did a remarkable job 150 years ago! In his final years, Lincoln’s vision of America was prophetic—his words honed to a razor’s edge. By November 1863, Lincoln’s thinking about our nation was like a diamond, compressed into the 270 words of the Gettysburg Address. A month before that battlefield speech, in October 1863, we can see that he was reaching that point of clarity when he issued his landmark Thanksgiving proclamation. Lincoln and his Secretary of State Seward took almost 500 words to describe their unique calling to “the whole American People.” Thanksgiving could begin the reformation of a compassionate union with special care for the nation’s most vulnerable.

SEASON OF GRATITUDE is a pioneering invitation to grassroots communities everywhere—to congregations, book clubs, schools, libraries and civic organizations. While it’s true that Americans fondly remember the Pilgrims and Indians gathering around a table, the annual holiday we now celebrate only began in 1863. In November, Americans will hear a lot about the 150th anniversary of this beloved holiday. From network TV to local newspapers and websites, everybody is going to be buzzing about this sesquicentennial.


This idea arose in a regional interfaith council that is rapidly becoming a leader in innovative programming to unite healthy, diverse communities. In the Alban Institute’s Congregations magazine, Martin Davis profiles the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit (IFLC) and concludes: “The IFLC blends and shapes the variety of religious life in ways that move everyone forward with integrity, and a commitment to respecting and listening to others. It’s what the beloved community is all about.”

CLICK ON THE TREE LOGO to visit the IFLC’s resource page for Season of Gratitude. When you visit that page, you will find the program described for the IFLC’s regional audience in southeast Michigan.

NOW, WE WELCOME YOU: In partnership with ReadTheSpirit online magazine, the IFLC is extending this idea to you—and to everyone nationwide. Please, go to the IFLC website and download the three Guides that outline events you are welcome to host. There are two basic approaches to organizing your local group: Host a Salon or discussion group; or host a community Meal or food-related event. The IFLC also provides a free, downloadable Discussion Guide to Lincoln’s inspiring Thanksgiving Declaration 150 years ago.


FIRST, THIS GREAT IDEA IS—FREE: First and foremost, this is a wonderful resource provided free of charge. If you have been looking for a fresh idea to energize your community, here are resources already developed for you.

YOU CAN SHINE A SPOTLIGHT ON YOUR COMMUNITY: If you organize an event along the guidelines provided by the IFLC, you will shine a spotlight on your community. In Michigan, where the IFLC is based, the IFLC will add your community’s event to a list of regional events the IFLC will be promoting throughout the autumn season. Elsewhere in the U.S., ReadTheSpirit magazine will include your event in our ongoing coverage. That’s a rare and valuable invitation! You’re performing a good deed in organizing a welcoming Season of Gratitude event in your community, plus you’re bringing attention to your group and—most importantly—your participation along with many others will be a sign of hope, hospitality and kindness in a time when diversity often is associated with conflict in news headlines.

Email us with news about your plans: [email protected]


Visit our easy-to-use Abraham Lincoln Resource Page to find dozens of online columns and resources. We will keep that Resource Page throughout the coming year as more Lincoln-anniversary events unfold.

This June 2013 book, The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads, has been identified by the Season of Gratitude organizing team as a recommended resource for communities who want to host food-related events this fall. The book shares inspiring stories about breads that define and unify many of the world’s religious cultures, including American Indians, Christians, Jews and Muslims. Each chapter includes authentic recipes you can bake yourself—or with friends. Your community could organize a weekly series, inviting participants to divide up baking these breads and leading the weekly discussion about the related stories.

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS and FRIENDSHIP & FAITH: Visit our ReadTheSpirit Bookstore for many more resources your group may want to read, enjoy and discuss this fall. More new books will be added this summer and autumn. Right now, ideal choices for Season of Gratitude include Daniel Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers, and the WISDOM women’s guide to making new friends Friendship & Faith.

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, values and cross-cultural issues.)



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