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Guest Column: Leslie Danks Burke


Leslie Danks Burke is a regional public advocate.

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 24, 2020 -- We are keeping Thanksgiving, despite differences this year. New York’s progress getting COVID in check has now given way to a surge that makes sharing a meal with a crowd or out-of-town travel risky. Yet even with different trappings than family and friends, a table stuffed with food, and watching a football game or two -- it’s still a good time to remember just why we give thanks on the last Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving’s background wasn’t always the story of Plymouth Plantation and a harvest feast celebrated by the Pilgrims and Native Americans who helped them survive the harsh winter of 1620-1621. Days of Thanksgiving took many forms throughout the Colonial era and early years of our Republic; small harvest festivals in towns and villages, religious proclamations by clergymen, and official celebrations like that proclaimed by President Washington in November, 1789.

In fact, our current Thanksgiving holiday originated in a time of profound American tragedy. America was in its third terrible year of the Civil War. Some Americans believed they could no longer endure a country that institutionalized slavery, while others could not envision its abolition. Hundreds of thousands of Americans had been killed in action or died of disease and injuries. Hundreds of thousands of more deaths would follow. The Union victory at Gettysburg had pushed back an invasion from the South, but Lincoln still received almost daily reports of Union and Confederate deaths from places like Bristoe Station and Pine Bluff.

Late in 1863, the writer Sarah Hale sent a letter to President Lincoln urging him to make the last Thursday in November a permanent Great American Festival of Thanksgiving. Lincoln issued the Day of Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3, 1863 declaring November 26 the first national Thanksgiving Day.

That first official Thanksgiving coincided with news of unspeakable tragedy. Even as Americans gave thanks, reports filtered north of almost 6,000 Union dead at Chattanooga, in a battle that took place a few days before November 26. Still, Thanksgiving endured. Former Confederate states did resist Thanksgiving for decades because they associated it with abolition and the Civil War. By 1900, even Southerners were gathering around the table on the Fourth Thursday of November. Through war and peace, prosperity and depression, whatever our particular political or religious beliefs, Americans unite in celebrating our cherished national holiday.

Our country has always found its way back from division. These days, it might feel like there is more that divides us than unites us. Folks often remark on this before and after major elections. Yet after every election, there is an expectation that we come back together and do what is right for everyone. Holidays, like Thanksgiving, are moments that can unite us.

Think of the stereotypical family squabbling over politics at Thanksgiving: That family still decided, despite differences, to come together for the holiday. Even knowing they might disagree with a relative, they came because disagreement is smaller than the importance of being there for family.

We have disagreements in this country, that’s for sure. But we are aiming for a common American goal: One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

It will be no different this year. Despite a pandemic that has sickened and killed so many of us and political discord that divides us, I will gather with my family and give thanks.

And I will heed Abraham Lincoln, who urged us to find solace and hope even in times of loss and despair, with these words:

“I commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

Photo: Leslie Danks Burke

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Carl Blowers, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp

Bottom row: Gary Gray, David Reed, Phil Barnes, Mark Rondinaro


Legislature Chairman

Carl Blowers, 535-6174 or 237-5469

Legislature Members:

Gary Gray, 292-9922

Van Harp, 329-2160

Jim Howell, 535-7266 or 227-1141

David M. Reed, 796-9558

Michael Lausell, 227- 9226

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482

Mark Rondinaro, 398-0648

County Clerk: Theresa Philbin, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Holley Sokolowski, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano-- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791


© The Odessa File 2017
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869