Our view: What to say on Thanksgiving that's never been said? Nothing, it turns out.

  • An on-the-spot drawing by Thomas Nast of the crowd in Baltimore's Calvert Station waiting to greet Abraham Lincoln's regularly scheduled train at about noon Saturday, February 23, 1861.
An on-the-spot drawing by Thomas Nast of the crowd in Baltimore's… (Baltimore Sun drawing by…)
November 26, 2009

It's that time of year when we give thanks for the former colleague who had the bright idea to forgo the heartfelt, mostly predictable appreciation of family and fortunes on this uniquely American holiday and instead reflect on the writing of the Thanksgiving editorial, no easy task. To our colleague's great chagrin, an earlier editorialist - also struggling, no doubt - had the very same idea on how best to serve up the holiday editorial. This year, we continue the tradition, reprinting a version of that piece with a few tweaks and lots of nods to Baltimore Sun editorial writers past and present.

A Notes and Comment column that ran in 1970 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 nonpersonal 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."

That's more or less the perfect summation, the perfect comment on the comment. The first Thanksgiving was 386 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 38 years ago 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."

Now repeat that 386 times.

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. Be sure to read the 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. ... 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."

Phew! Made it! But just barely.

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