Thanksgiving: The Grateful Holiday
Most of us have probably heard the story of the first Thanksgiving. Outside of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, it is the next claim to fame of this group of Puritan immigrants who migrated to the new world in pursuit of a better way of life. But not much is actually known about that first Thanksgiving in 1621 or more accurately, the fall feast as the Pilgrims called it. Only two first hand accounts of the event exist: one written by William Bradford, the other by Edward Winslow. Time and the art of storytelling have had a way of filling in the gaps of the first Thanksgiving and weaving for us, the future generations, a feel good story of merriment, thankfulness and community when two groups of people, the pilgrims and the Wampanoags, two groups as different as different can be, came together in one place, for one purpose: to celebrate a bountiful fall harvest.
The year was 1620 when the Mayflower departed Plymouth, a port on the Southern coast of England, on September 6 with 102 passengers. Amazingly enough and despite a storm-riddled, tumultuous sea combined with deteriorating health of the ship’s passengers, the 66 day voyage across the Atlantic to the new world saw only one passenger die, and one child born, who was appropriately named Oceanus. Kind of sounds like a trendy 21st century name, doesn’t it? Having been given permission by the Virginia Company, the pilgrims planned to land in northern Virginia somewhere between Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of the Hudson River. Unrelenting storms near the end of their voyage had another plan in mind for the pilgrims. Pushing them off course, the storms forced them to land further north in Cape Cod on November 9. It is here where they drafted the infamous Mayflower Compact, a social contract of sorts, which established a set of rules and laws for the colony. Some skirmishes with local native people had the pilgrims boarding the Mayflower once again in December with the goal of traveling south to Plymouth Harbor where they ultimately landed near the now iconic Plymouth Rock.
The triple threat of disease, starvation and weather that first winter conspired against the 102 pilgrims from the Mayflower, and their numbers dwindled to 53. Gutting out that first year with the help of the nearby Wampanoag tribe, the remaining colonist made it through the winter of 1620 and came out on the other side in 1621 to see a hearty supply of food come their way prompting a celebration that would later become our Thanksgiving.
Currently we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November, but according to historians, this first feast of thanksgiving likely occurred somewhere between September to November. The exact date is not known, but because of the hand written accounts of Bradford and Winslow, we know it took place for three days and included recreational activities. Did you hear that? Yes, recreation! Do yourself a favor this year and add a little recreation time to your holiday schedule, your digestive system and waistline will thank you.
Particularly American, the Thanksgiving holiday is one filled with overeating, football watching and time spent with family and friends. It’s the one-day a year that we keep forefront in our brains, all the things for which we are grateful. Steeped in tradition, this is what we Americans do, but maybe, just maybe this year, as the sun sets on Turkey Day, we will remember to be grateful everyday. To assist myself with keeping gratefulness forefront in my mind, I made a “grateful jar.” For the next year, I will write one thing that I am grateful for each day on a colorful piece of paper, placing it into the jar to grow into a kaleidoscope of memories for me to enjoy next year at this time.
Blessings for a Happy Thanksgiving!