November 23, 2006

We had this idea that we'd skip the earnest and uplifting holiday message this year and instead write about the writing of the Thanksgiving editorial. So we went back and looked at Thanksgiving editorial pages from years past - and discovered that we'd been beaten to the punch. By ourselves. In 1970.

A Notes and Comment column that ran that year began this way:

We always enjoy reading Presidential Proclamations on Thanksgiving. These are required by Section 6103 of Title 5 of the United States Code. Every November, some writer on the White House Staff must produce something new about Thanksgiving. It is not easy.

We know because we have to do the same thing, sort of - produce an annual editorial about the subject with something new in it. That's the corporate or institutional or editorial "we" by the way. Like presidential speechwriters, we editorial writers are an anonymous and non-personal species. No one will ever know who the writer was who produced Proclamation 4201 for President Nixon, or what his true feelings are on the subject of Thanksgiving, and no one will ever know who produced "Thanksgiving" in the first column of this page, or what his true feelings are ... .

That's more or less the perfect summation, the perfect comment on the comment. The first Thanksgiving was 385 years ago, and, believe us, finding something to say - and on top of that, something appropriate for a serious newspaper - doesn't get any easier. The chief Thanksgiving editorial that year, over in Column One, talked about the Puritans' practice of holding a day of fasting and humiliation as well as one of feasting and thanksgiving. It alluded to the troubles afflicting the nation back in those Vietnam days, including the assassinations of the 1960s, which must still have seemed fresh. It ended:

... To approach Thanksgiving in anything akin to the old-time spirit is to recognize how fragile are our civilizing influences, how buffeted the ties that bind each to the other. It is a day for humility as well as feasting as we count the good things that have come our way in 1970.

Well, editorial writers are always trying to load some additional meaning onto Thanksgiving, like humility. It gives them something else to write about, for one thing. The problem is that the classic Thanksgiving editorial reminds readers how much they have to give thanks for, and how many others there are who are not as fortunate - but you knew that already, didn't you? In 1954, The Sun editorial contented itself with being outraged over the detention of 13 Americans by the Communist Chinese, the theme being, theirs is not going to be a happy holiday. A fair point, but kind of a stretch, nonetheless. Two years later The Sun tackled the editorial self-evidentness of Thanksgiving head on:

... There are two elements in a Thanksgiving. One is an expression of gratitude for blessings received. The other should be an expression of a sense of responsibility for those not equally blessed.

There. Now repeat that 385 times.

But speaking of staying on message, a delightful and extraordinarily lengthy editorial from 1898 went all over the lot, and managed to regain its theme only at the last possible moment. The United States had just won a war with Spain, and was taking on an overseas empire that we at The Sun clearly were alarmed about. Whatever you do, read on to that wonderful last "In the meantime" sentence.

... The United States have [sic] emerged from a war with a foreign power marvelously victorious in every direction. Members of thousands of families went into that war, and, in spite of mismanagement in camp and in field, many more of them returned to their homes than seemed probable at the outset of hostilities. ...

The dangers of the peace, the terms of which our commissioners at Paris have just set forth, threaten more disastrous results than did the war itself. We are started upon a road, it seems, which our fathers knew not, and the final termination of which may be national disaster. ... In the meantime The Sun hopes its readers and friends and the people generally will enjoy their family reunions today, made more delightful by dinner tables decorated with chrysanthemums and roasted turkeys, and all sorts of material comforts which make glad the heart of man and his countenance cheerful, and with some thought for those who are in "trouble, sorrow, need, sickness or any other adversity."

Phew! Made it! But just barely.

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