Gratitude Reflections

John F. Kennedy on Thanksgiving

George Washington proclaimed the first Day of Thanksgiving on November 26, 1789 during the first year of his presidency, but Thanksgiving didn’t become an annual tradition until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving during the midst of the American Civil War.

Every year since 1863, the President of the United States has delivered an annual Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, expressing the importance of the Thanksgiving tradition in the United States.  John F. Kennedy, who was President during the height of the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement, delivered three strong Thanksgiving Day Proclamations during his Presidency. Below are his lessons to remember not only on Thanksgiving but on every day of the year:

  • Remember the true origins and reasons for Thanksgiving.

“I urge all citizens to make this Thanksgiving not merely a holiday from their labors, but rather a day of contemplation. I ask the head of each family to recount to his children the story of the first New England Thanksgiving, thus to impress upon future generations the heritage of this nation born in toil, in danger, in purpose, and in the conviction that right and justice and freedom can through man’s efforts persevere and come to fruition with the blessing of God.” (1961)

“Over three centuries ago in Plymouth, on Massachusetts Bay, the Pilgrims established the custom of gathering together each year to express their gratitude to God for the preservation of their community and for the harvests their labors brought forth in the new land. Joining with their neighbors, they shared together and worshipped together in a common giving of thanks. Thanksgiving Day has ever since been part of the fabric which has united Americans with their past, with each other and with the future of all mankind.”  (1962)

  • Give thanks to those in our past who both fought for and gave us our ideals and values.

“We recognize that we are the beneficiaries of the toil and devotion of our fathers and that we can pass their legacy on to our children only by equal toil and equal devotion.” (1962)

“Today we give our thanks, most of all, for the ideals of honor and faith we inherit from our forefathers–for the decency of purpose, steadfastness of resolve and strength of will, for the courage and the humility, which they possessed and which we must seek every day to emulate. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” (1963)

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” -John F. Kennedy (“Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, 1963“)

  • Be thankful for the intrinsic things that we have.

“Yet we have, as in the past, ample reason to be thankful for the abundance of our blessings. We are grateful for the blessings of faith and health and strength and for the imperishable spiritual gifts of love and hope. We give thanks, too, for our freedom as a nation; for the strength of our arms and the faith of our friends; for the beliefs and confidence we share; for our determination to stand firmly for what we believe to be right and to resist mightily what we believe to be base; and for the heritage of liberty bequeathed by our ancestors which we are privileged to preserve for our children and our children’s children.” (1961)

  • We have gifts, like hope and love, that are can only be destroyed if we allow it.

“We recognize too that we live in a world of peril and change–and in so uncertain a time we are all the more grateful for the indestructible gifts of hope and love, which sustain us in adversity and inspire us to labor unceasingly for a more perfect community within this nation and around the earth.” (1962)

  • Be mindful of those who have less than us.

“But in the midst of our thanksgiving, let us not be unmindful of the plight of those in many parts of the world to whom hunger is no stranger and the plight of those millions more who live without the blessings of liberty and freedom” (1961)

“Let us renew [the spirit of the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving ] by sharing the abundance of this day with those less fortunate, in our own land and abroad. Let us renew that spirit by seeking always to establish larger communities of brotherhood.” (1962)

  • Strive towards a better world not just for us but for all of humanity:

“Let us observe this day with reverence and with prayer that will rekindle in us the will and show us the way not only to preserve our blessings, but also to extend them to the four corners of the earth. Let us by our example, as well as by our material aid, assist all peoples of all nations who are striving to achieve a better life in freedom.”  (1961)

“To all we can offer the sustenance of hope that we shall not fail in our unceasing efforts to make this a peaceful and prosperous world for all mankind.” (1961)

“Let us therefore proclaim our gratitude to Providence for manifold blessings–let us be humbly thankful for inherited ideals–and let us resolve to share those blessings and those ideals with our fellow human beings throughout the world.” (1962)

“Let us be humbly thankful for inherited ideals–and let us resolve to share those blessings and those ideals with our fellow human beings throughout the world.” -John F. Kennedy (Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, 1962)

“Let us renew [the spirit of the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving] by expressing our acceptance of the limitations of human striving and by affirming our duty to strive nonetheless, as Providence may direct us, toward a better world for all mankind.” (1962)

It is important that we take some time to remember the things that we are thankful for, not only on Thanksgiving, but on every day of the year. Through a practice of gratitude, we can learn to look at the things that are abundant in our lives over looking for the things that are lacking. We live in a world of scarcity, but there are things in our lives, like hope and love, that can only be taken away from us if we choose to let them go.

Focus less on the material, and learn to appreciate those things in our lives which are available to us every day.



Image Source: President John F. Kennedy Receives Thanksgiving Turkey at White House 19 November 1963), John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

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