Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving--How It Really Began

When all the foolish and inaccurate hoohah about Thanksgiving began to rob me of my sanity, I decided to find out what actually happened, and how Thansgiving really began. I had a lot of fun digging up a few of the facts. So for all of you out there who are equally in the dark about the true beginning of Thanksgiving, here is a brief summary of how it all came about.

After leaving Plymouth, England, on September 6, 1620, to go to the New World, the original 102 Pilgrims finally saw land in late November, but it took time to find a suitable place to land. Finally, on December 11, they disembarked at Plymouth Rock. While still on the ship, they signed the "Mayflower Compact," America's first civil document , which introduced the concept of self-government.

The Pilgrims were unprepared for the harsh New England winter, and suffered from scurvy, malnutrition, and various contagious diseases. Only half of the Mayflower's original passengers and crew lived until spring.

They were visited by a native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe, who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery, so was able to learn English before managing to escape and return to his own land. He taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers, and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped them forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years. Sadly, it is one of the few examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.

Because of help from Squanto and other Indians, the settlers had a bountiful harvest of corn, pumpkin, beans, and barley, and had learned how to make many Indian dishes and the many ways to use cranberries.

To give thanks to God and to the Indians, Governor William Bradford organized a three-day feast, starting on December 13, 1621.  Four Pilgrim men were sent out "fowling," or bird hunting, in preparation. The Wamponoag guests, about 90 of them, including their chief, Massasoit, came bearing five deer.  Lobster, seal, and swan were also on the menu, as well as ducks, geese, fish, and cranberries.The Indians even brought popcorn.Together, they all celebrated the good harvest, and the Pilgrims gave thanks to God and to the Indians for their indispensable help. This was the first American Thanksgiving.

Some of the most notable passengers on the Mayflower included Myles Standish, who would become the militaray leader of the new colony, and William Bradford, a leader of the Separatist congregation, who wrote the classic account of the Mayflower voyage and the founding of Plymouth Colony, and who also became governor of the colony.

At the end of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln asked all Americans to set aside the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving. Much, much later, the day was changed by Congress to the fourth Thursday in November.

I'd say that the first Thanksgiving was a sincerely thankful celebration, and undoubtedly so was the Thanksgiving at the end of the Civil War. But gradually it deteriorated into a day for sports, which began in the 1870's, parades, which happened in the 1900's, and shopping, as well as a day to cook, and gather together and pig out.

What I am thankful for today is very simple and very basic--much more real than what I thought of when I was younger. Now I know it is a gift just to be alive and to love and be loved. That's what I'm thankful for.   

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