As we enter this week of Thanksgiving in the USA, let’s reflect and journey back to what many view as the good old days of American history. The pristine New England coast and forests must have been a glorious sight to behold.
For a group of people seeking their own Eden, the sight must have delighted the senses after 66 days on the turbulent ocean. The sea and land were abundant sources of food, but as anyone from New England will testify, the beautiful foliage of Autumn gives way to the harsh coastal winter.
These words were not known to these souls from a strange land. “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ode To The West Wind.
For many of them Spring did not come. It was a deadly winter for this band of ocean travellers.
When the Spring of 1621 came, the company of 102 souls (pilgrims) were down to less than half. They left the ship and began planting for a Fall Harvest which they prayed would be abundant.
One of these adventurers was Edward Winslow with his wife Elizabeth. Elizabeth would join the company of the dead, but Edward remarried Widow Susanna White whose husband William had suffered the same fate as Elizabeth.
Edward wrote of the Fall Harvest:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week.
“At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, and many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”
“The First Thanksgiving, 1621,” EyeWitness to History, http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2010).
Based on accounts, the thanksgiving feast lasted three days. To the survivors of the Mayflower as well as to the native Wampanoags who had survived an epidemic a few years which greatly reduced their numbers, the tradition of the First Thanksgiving began.
What really happened in November 1621 is part of American lore. The actual events over the centuries have taken on a mythos with a heavy creamy dose of romanticism.
The question is: What was thankfulness all about in this New World?
When the name Jonathan Edwards is mentioned, the first images conjured up are of the fiery Puritan preacher at the lectern proclaiming fire and brimstone for sinners. His sermon Sinners In the Hands of An Angry God makes a lasting impression.
One would not associate Thanksgiving with such a man. However, he wrote the following:
“Love is a principal ingredient in the grace of thankfulness. There is a counterfeit thankfulness in which there is no love. But there is love in exercise in all sincere thankfulness. And the greater any person’s love is, the more will he be disposed to praise. Love will cause him to delight in the work.” Jonathan Edwards http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works2.xv.x.html
Love—we certainly could use the spirit of love as we celebrate Thanksgiving in 2016. The country is sorely divided over the election.
Many family members and friends are at odds. As one friend told me, there will be no Thanksgiving table at her house this year since her children and their spouses will not sit down with her at the family table where they grew up.
For many a glass of eggnog or a warm cup of spiced apple cider will not calm the festering discord of this election among those who used to sing, dance, play and laugh together. Now, there is just sadness and grief.
Perhaps in time, differences of political views will coalesce into an acceptance, perhaps a disquieting acceptance. Once again the family table at Thanksgiving will be the cornucopia of myriad delights.
There is always hope for 2017. However, with life as transient as it is on this planet traversing the cosmos, do you want to take the chance that your loved one or friend will be here for Thanksgiving 2017?
“Tomorrow is promised to no one.” Clint Eastwood
G. D. Williams © 2016
What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving? The Wampanoag Side of the Tale
Lochgarry Posts On Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving: A Reflection
November 23, 2012: After Thanksgiving Reflection
Thanksgiving: One’s Woman Relentless Quest for the Great American Festival
President William McKinley’s 1900 Thanksgiving Proclamation
Thanksgiving Memory: The Turkey Shoot
Thanksgiving: Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation
Thanksgiving: George Washington’s Proclamation
The Thanksgiving Story
1676 Thanksgiving Proclamation