Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Thanksgiving Reading


 image from Graphics Fairy

I just wanted to pop in here to talk about Thanksgiving Day. 

I have been reading out loud for school some books by Governor Bradford and Edward Winslow. Not easy reading, between the language structure and the gobs of business letters. Once you can get to a point of understanding it, though, it is quite interesting. I cannot summarize it well enough, but I will point out a few things that struck me.

Since the time in school that I had learned that the Pilgrims were not the first to make a settlement on this continent, their story has not loomed too large in my mind. They were just one group of many, but of course important because of the principle of freedom of religion they brought with them etc.. In those first-grade  school books they are associated with the construction-paper turkey, funny hats, and some rock they stepped on. And the story of Squanto is told, of course, still teaching us the usefulness of fish fertilizer and corn crops.

I am reading these books for our school history this month to try and find that "First Thanksgiving" feast. I  know that there have been many days of "Thanksgiving" announced by our nation, that were not strictly about the Pilgrims and their harvest, or even food. Was the Pilgrim's Thanksgiving feast  (with turkey)  real or just a legend? We've read up to the year 1623 and somehow we missed it. But I have noticed that the Pilgrims practiced a lifestyle of thanksgiving, when they had something to eat and when they didn't.

We have read of only one good harvest between 1620 and the summer of 1623. This was after barely making it to land (with no mast or sails left), losing half their people to illness that first winter, having a weakened group of workers, and taking time to build a fort for defense.  When the colony did manage to have enough food from that one good harvest, a shipload of un-supplied (and rather useless) men were brought from England and dumped on them to feed. This happened more than once in their story, and of course it always took the harvests and food storage to feed the extra people. The Pilgrims had to beg passing ships for bread, or trade with the Indians for food. Often they had to leave what they bought from the Indians because through various problems with their boat they could not carry it home. Once, another colony miles away somehow mismanaged their own food supply, nearly starved, and had to be supplied by the Pilgrims.

To top off the food problems, the promises of support and supplies from England hardly ever came through. Their main sponsor was a liar, and other sponsors would back out. It often seemed like they were going to be abandoned. If there was still someone sympathetic to their cause back in England, there were enemies  who tried to blacken the colony's name by writing letters of slander. They dealt with two-faced, unprincipled, criminal men and shysters. They wrote home to defend themselves, but it took so long for letters to get across the ocean and I cannot imagine how frustrating it must have been.

Through all their trials, even when extreme measures had to be taken, they would thank God for the outcome. They were often discouraged, and admitted it. They must have felt hopeless many times. Yet, they had an attitude of thanksgiving, giving thanks to God and looking for the good, or at least the lesson learned.

This thankfulness also made them a forgiving, or at least merciful, people I think. They helped out that liar, who abandoned them with hollow promises of supplies, when he was in want. They cared for, fed and defended a neighboring colony of people who were not honorable to the Indians, which behaviour by default would ruin the Pilgrim's honest reputation.  They kept care of Squanto, even though he turned out to be a disappointment to them and a detriment to their peace with the surrounding tribes. 

(You can read about Squanto here for yourselves. I'm glad that Squanto helped out with the corn, but I'm sad that he wasn't quite the friend through and through we all thought he was. And I'm upset that we don't hear more about Massasoit's right-hand-man Hobbamock [you can read about Hobbamock here], who should be getting a lot of credit in history books for his help. I don't remember hearing about him in the early curriculum that I went through. I think that history writers for little kids must think that "Squanto" is more fun to say when you are five or six... maybe they decided that since Hobbamock's name means "devil" that they wouldn't include him. Anyway, at least this year my children are learning about a loyal man named Hobbamock!)

I think we finally found when the Pilgrims had an "official day of thanksgiving" in 1623,  but it was after fasting & prayer (it was amazing to us that they announced a fast, when they were regularly starving as it was). There was a terrible drought at the time, and they were petitioning God for rain. When He sent rain, they declared an official Thanksgiving. 

 It is lovely to have a feast to celebrate the concept of Thanksgiving, and have a time set aside to be thankful. We say a prayer for the food and feel thankful for it. We are thankful to gather with our family. I know that this "thankfulness" for our meal would mean more if we had to suffer as the Pilgrims did, and it is worth remembering what they went through. For ourselves, perhaps we need to recall the trials we have been brought out of by the Lord's mercies, and thank Him for that specifically.

 There is a great lesson in all this, and it is one I am still learning. I hope someday I can be a thankful person in everything and at all times!


Laura Jeanne said...

Thank you for the history lesson. I'm Canadian, so I never learned anything about the Pilgrims in school. Our Thanksgiving holiday is in October, and not much is said about it from a historical perspective.

Lillibeth said...

Laura Jeanne, I envy you Canadians your Thanksgiving date. It just makes WAY more sense to have it in October. That's when harvest ends, that's when the leaves are colorful and still mostly on the trees, that's when the sunshine is out and pumpkins aren't rotting on the porches. The last week of November is too late, in my opinion, to feel "harvesty." Last year I rebelled and did one in October, but there were no turkeys on sale so I had to do roast beef!
I am 1/4 Canadian so I figured I had permission to do it in October :-D

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