Making Thanksgiving Meaningful Again

This Thanksgiving, it’s time to ensure that every young American and every immigrant who would become a new citizen learn about the historic origins and meaning of Thanksgiving.

In the popular media today, Thanksgiving is a time of turkey, too much food and the beginning of the Christmas shopping rush.

Yet, historically, Thanksgiving is about much more than food.

Historically, Thanksgiving is about renewing the bond between Americans and their Creator. It’s a time when we are reminded that our rights come from God and that we have responsibilities to God as free citizens.

So here’s what we should do: Every state should adopt laws requiring the teaching of the real history and meaning of Thanksgiving in the schools. It would be an important step toward truly understanding our nation’s heritage and history.

Thanksgiving: The First Uniquely American Holiday

The history of Thanksgiving goes all the way back to the second decade of English-speaking people in North America.

Thanksgiving was the first uniquely American holiday.

Yesterday, President Bush visited the site in Virginia — Berkeley Plantation — where the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1619 — 12 years after the founding of the Virginia colony at Jamestown.

The first Thanksgiving was a religious celebration — an occasion to thank God — that featured only a modest meal. It wasn’t until two years later, in 1621, that Thanksgiving was expanded to include a banquet by the pilgrims in Massachusetts.

President Washington Makes Thanksgiving a Day for a Free People to Acknowledge Their Debt to God

During his first year in office, President George Washington issued a proclamation calling for a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer.”

Washington had been a general who had spent eight years on the field of battle winning our freedom from Great Britain. Then he spent another six years creating the Constitution and the government that we still have 218 years later (the longest continuing constitutional government in the world). So Washington understood well the nature of a free society and its obligation to both thank God and seek His guidance.

In his Thanksgiving proclamation, Washington wrote: “It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”

Lincoln Builds on Washington’s Tradition

During the very heart of the Civil War, in October 1863, President Abraham Lincoln built on President Washington’s initiative and created an annual day of thanksgiving.

Like Washington, Lincoln was determined to draw a direct tie between America and the Creator from whom Americans draw their rights.

Lincoln acknowledged that the nation was “in the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity.” But he focused instead on the nation’s blessings, urging his fellow Americans to remember that “no human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

Americans Understand the Wisdom of the Founders on Religion and Morality

Both young Americans and new Americans should learn about the unique values of America’s founding leaders.

In our American Solutions survey, the American people overwhelmingly assert that the lessons of Washington and Lincoln are relevant today: 79% surveyed believe that the Founding Fathers understood that religion and morality were important to creating and building this country and that this is central to America’s success today.

In that same survey, Americans strongly support seeking answers to today’s challenges by listening to the wisdom of our past great leaders: 86% believe that statements regarding religion and morality made by the Founding Fathers are just as important today as they were 200 years ago.

Contact Your Representatives and Ask Them to Restore Teaching the Real History of Thanksgiving

So what can we do to make sure all Americans understand the wisdom of the Founders when it comes to Thanksgiving?

A first step would be for you to contact your state legislators and ask them to make sure that your state requires teaching the history of Thanksgiving as part of its curriculum, including in public undergraduate college education.

Then contact your members of Congress and ask them to support legislation making the history of Thanksgiving a part of citizenship education for new Americans.

Why Do the House Democratic Leaders Undermine English as Our National Language?

We have a great deal to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. But there’s clearly a lot of work we need to do as well.

Last April, I wrote to you about how a misguided federal agency was using your tax dollars to sue a charity for requiring its workers to speak English on the job.

I reported that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a taxpayer-funded government commission, was suing the Salvation Army for letting go two employees who had failed to learn — after a total of six years of opportunity — enough English to perform their jobs.

Now, John Fund reports in the Wall Street Journal that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has surrendered to extremists in the House who want to make sure that charities such as the Salvation Army remain vulnerable to federal lawsuits for asking their employees to speak English on the job. But it doesn’t stop there, every business is at risk too.

Will Employers Need a ‘Special Reason’ to Require English on the Job?

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R.-Tenn.) is the sponsor of a bill that would shield the Salvation Army from federal lawsuits for requiring its employees to speak our common language. Wide margins in both the Senate and the House have approved it. But Speaker Pelosi has allowed a group of extremists to prevent a final vote on the Alexander bill.

Sen. Alexander, who notes that the number of EEOC actions against policies such as that of the Salvation Army grew to 200 last year from 32 a decade ago, described the consequences of the House Democratic leadership’s cave-in: “Thousands of small businesses across America will have to show there is some special reason to justify requiring their employees to speak our country’s common language on the job.”

A Good Idea From Sen. Obama That Should be Implemented Now

When he visited the headquarters of Internet search engine giant Google, Inc. last week, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) had a good idea that Congress and the President should support.

Sen. Obama said that as President he would encourage more public interaction with government by putting government documents and legislation online for all Americans to see. He also said he would appoint the nation’s first technology chief and encourage public participation through Internet forums.

These are good ideas that the President should make his own. He could accomplish some of them by changing government regulations. The rest he should challenge Congress to pass in his State of the Union address next year.

Here’s wishing you and your family a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Newt Gingrich

P.S. — The Christmas season is almost upon us. If you’re looking for gifts for that hard-to-please someone on your list, consider the following: