Mmmmmm, I can already smell the turkey cooking and taste the butter-soaked mashed potatoes with a big side of stuffing. Yes, Thanksgiving is a true feast for the senses. It may not be my favorite holiday of the year, but when it comes to culinary cuisine it is certainly my favorite day of the year. I imagine, like me, most of you gather around the table with family and friends and bow your heads to give thanks. Perhaps it is for the birth of a baby, a promotion at work, or for the feast in front of you.
These are all blessings and certainly worthy of gratitude, but to get a true feeling for the meaning behind Thanksgiving, we have to travel back to the year 1620.
It was mid-day on November 11 and the Pilgrims had finally reached the new world.
Despite missing their intended destination, the Colony of Virginia, by a few hundred miles, they were anchored at Cape Cod in the area that is now Provincetown Harbor. They had just spent a rough 3 months crossing the Atlantic in search of religious freedom. Their epic journey had been fraught with violent storms, horrible sanitation, mechanical dilemmas and rancid food that was so bad it would make a Billy goat sick. Despite the horrendous conditions, the Pilgrims kept their faith and passed the days singing psalms.
In the harbor their first order of business was drafting and signing the Mayflower Compact. This simple document established the first rudimentary form of democracy in America and underscored the importance of each member contributing to the welfare of the community. An excerpt of the text follows:
“Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony… solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering, and preservation…”
As you can tell, it was a custom of the pilgrims to honor God and give thanks in all things.
Once the compact had been signed, a landing party was sent ashore to explore the rugged terrain and gather firewood and hunt prey. Due to their missed landing spot, there was no food or shelter awaiting them upon their arrival. But at least the firewood would provide a hot meal for the Pilgrims, something they hadn’t enjoyed in weeks.
Unfortunately the Pilgrims would have to spend many more months aboard the Mayflower for shelter and safety. What followed was a winter filled with frigid weather, long hard days and mysterious illnesses that took many lives. But their faith and prayer carried them through the season and in the spring they set out to complete their living quarters and plant crops. The work was grueling and seemed to never end, but by October 1621 the buildings were complete, and the crops were ready to be harvested. They would have food to sustain them through the winter!
As the new governor of the colony, William Bradford breathed a sigh of relief. He reflected on the fact that they had survived a treacherous sea journey which brought them near starvation. They had struggled through a bitterly cold winter filled with death and disease, and they had lost nearly half of their party, but their faith never wavered.
The price of freedom is always high, and the Pilgrims accepted that fact.
So in November 1621, William Bradford declared that Plymouth should hold a thanksgiving festival. It was to be a feast and celebration worthy of their long journey. They would invite the settlements’ Indian friends as their special guests and they would eat, drink and sing praise together.
So on this Thanksgiving Day, let’s bow our heads and remember those pilgrims who sacrificed so much for a simple ideology: religious freedom. Only those who have it tend to take it for granted.
God Bless and Happy Thanksgiving.