THIS ANNUAL festival of harvest, home and family was first celebrated in New England by people who were grateful for their community's survival. It was established as a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, a time when the nation's survival was in doubt.

In good times and bad since then, it has been customary for the president to issue a proclamation of Thanksgiving each year. But often there are less formal, more moving proclamations of the day's spirit. This year's came in the form of a news story sent out by the Associated Press from Yellowknife, one of the towns along the west coast of Canada's Hudson Bay inhabited by the Inuit (also known as Eskimos).

Twenty-seven years ago, in the winter of 1957- 58, the caribou herds ran short, and there was famine among the Inuit there. Many died. "I was 10 years old; my brother was about 6," said Charlie Panagoniak, a survivor of the famine. "When the police plane came to rescue us, we were so skinny the policeman had no trouble lifting us both up at the same time."

The Inuit don't have much today; there are never really any flush times where they live. But they are not starving to death. When they saw the television reports on famine in Ethiopia, they remembered the winter of 27 years ago. "I hurt for those people," said Mr. Panagoniak. "My brother was skinny like that and my mother, my father. My little sister was better off because my mother could feed her, but the rest of us were under the snow, with only our heads showing, waiting to die."

The Inuit in these communities have in recent weeks donated thousands of dollars to African relief. Mr. Panagoniak's town has given a thousand. In Rankin Inlet, a town of 1,300, contributions of $6,000 were made during a weekend telethon. "We collected 400 pounds in pennies," said Edward Kabluigok, the coordinator of the project there. "That's the life savings of probably every kid in Rankin Inlet."

Such are the authors of the Thanksgiving proclamation of 1984.