Later this month, Foreign Service families will celebrate Thanksgiving at their homes in foreign countries. Even though it can be quite costly to ship or buy a turkey overseas, there will be one at the center of the table, surrounded by each family’s favorite dishes – some American, some local. If the children are in school, it’s likely that there will be crayon drawings of the Pilgrims and the Mayflower, brought home from an American or international school.
In many places, however, it doesn’t quite feel like Thanksgiving. In the southern hemisphere, summer, not winter, is on the way. There should be a nip in the air on Thanksgiving, but the day will be hot in Riyadh and Guayaquil. Only a few places in the world are blessed to have deciduous trees that change color in the autumn.
During my time in hot and humid places, I found a way to “put my mind right” — to get in the mood of the season. It was to read one of the proclamations issued by Wilbur Cross (1862-1948), Governor of Connecticut from 1931 to 1939.
Before entering politics, Cross was a professor of English at Yale University. He taught Shakespeare. During his governorship, he penned and issued eight annual Thanksgiving Day proclamations – so full of New England color, literary grace, upright ideals, and patriotism.
A collection of Governor Cross’s proclamations was published in 1937. The Connecticut State Library has made all eight Thanksgiving proclamations available online, and the Library recently uploaded a film of Cross reading his proclamation of 1938. The most famous of his proclamations was penned in 1936, but the proclamation of 1938, in my judgment, especially fits our time, 80 years later.
As the colors of autumn stream down the wind, scarlet in sumach and maple, spun gold in the birches, a splendor of smoldering fire in the oaks along the hill, and the last leaves flutter away, and dusk falls briefly about the worker bringing in from the field a late load of its fruit, and Arcturus is lost to sight and Orion swings upward that great sun upon his shoulder, we are stirred once more to ponder the Infinite Goodness that has set apart for us, in all this moving mystery of creation, a time of living and a home. In such a spirit I appoint Thursday, the twenty-fourth of November, a day of
In such a spirit I call upon the people to acknowledge heartily, in friendly gathering and house of prayer, the increase of the season nearing now its close: the harvest of earth, the yield of patient mind and faithful hand, that have kept us fed and clothed and have made for us a shelter even against the storm. It is right that we whose arc of sky has been darkened by no war hawk, who have been forced by no man to stand and speak when to speak was to choose between death and life, should give thanks also for the further mercies we have enjoyed, beyond desert or any estimation, of Justice, Freedom, Loving-kindness, Peace – resolving, as we prize them, to let no occasion go without some prompting or some effort worthy in a way however humble of those proudest among man’s ideals, which burn, though it may be like candles fitfully in our gusty world, with a light so clear we name its source divine.
November 10, 1938
Donald M. Bishop is the Bren Chair of Strategic Communications in the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. Mr. Bishop served as a Foreign Service Officer – first in the U.S. Information Agency and then in the Department of State – for 31 years.