On the Origins of Thanksgiving

On the Origins of Thanksgiving

For one week in October of 2013, I was fortunate to be able to travel–with my particular friend Peggy R.–to Plymouth, Massachusetts.  (That’s “particular” as in the old usage, meaning “very good or close”.  I read it in Patrick O’Brian novels, pertaining to Captain Aubrey and Doctor Maturin, and have been ever after enamored of the phrase.  But I digress).  We found a small local motel that was located smack dab in the middle of everything, so to speak, and walked all over that town.  There are so many historical sites to visit there, and we absorbed as much information (and fresh seafood!) as we could in the time we had.  The impressions are vivid memories, even after more than a year.

I learned that the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower were made up of two groups:  Separatists from the Church of England, who wanted the freedom to worship as they saw fit, and other folks who were simply willing to take a chance on the opportunities the New World might provide.  A group of English merchants helped fund the expedition, with the understanding that the travelers would work hard and (in the future) send back to England things from the colony that could be sold for a handsome profit.  It was a business arrangement, not religious charity.  The two groups were rather suspicious of each other while aboard the Mayflower.  Upon dropping anchor on December 16, 1620, however, in facing the vast wilderness, the reality of just how much effort it was going to take simply to survive sort of kicked in to the consciousness of all parties involved, and they agreed to work together as one community.

Originally they had set out in two ships, but the smaller Speedwell leaked like a sieve (possibly due to the captain’s decision to over-rig her), and after turning back for repairs twice, the decision was made to cram as many people as possible onto the Mayflower, and proceed on their own.  So by the day they arrived here, time and tides had worked against them, Winter was already in full force, and their stores of food were dwindling quickly.  Add to this the scavenging they did in some deserted Indian villages where the former inhabitants had all died of disease shortly before, and it was a recipe for disaster.  Of the 102 passengers transported, only 51 of them were survived that first Winter.  Can you imagine losing half of the population of your tiny group, just when you’re all struggling to build a town?

Incredibly, they hung in there.  They received help from some local Native Americans, and everyone worked hard to make the venture succeed.  The First Thanksgiving was a celebration upon the completion of their first harvest, and an opportunity to show their gratitude.  They celebrated basic survival, and the many blessings of this new land.  They celebrated hope, and freedom.   They celebrated unlikely friendships, and the satisfaction that working together toward achieving common goals can bring.

It seems like the Americans of today could take a lesson from those early Pilgrims.  I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was one of many blessings.  And I wish for us all, an Attitude of Gratitude.

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