Thanksgiving is upon us and I’m looking forward to a few days off with family members and especially my children and extended family member’s I’ve not seen – but what is this holiday for? The fact is, I went through most of grade school drawing pictures of pilgrims, but without any concept of what they were doing standing around eating wild turkeys. I find the people around me are doing the same…it’s a time to over-eat and watch games and movies on TV. So a break from work and a little history might be just the thing for today’s blog entry…
Thanksgiving starts in Delfshaven, Holland in 1620 for most people (who have heard of the Mayflower), but for some, it starts years earlier in Scrooby, England. There, a small group of devote Christians, led by William Brewster and John Robinson were under pressure from the Church of England, mainly King James. He wanted people in the state Church, not out doing their own things. The state run Church teaching state approved doctrine was unacceptable to this group called Separatists. Looking for freedom, these families, mostly of substance, moved on to another country to gain their freedom. That country was Holland. There they took on the name Pilgrims, or strangers in a foreign land. This was in the year 1608, long before the Mayflower set sail.
Leaving their wealth and land behind, they gave it all up to have freedom of worship and the ability to raise their children according to their beliefs. But after 12 years in Holland, they began to see negative affects of the society they lived in. It was free, but their families were surrounded by influences they felt were harmful. Believing God was directing them to move on, they set sail for Southhampton England, with hopes of heading from there to America.
After several attempts to launch two ships, they finally set sail on one ship, the Mayflower, transporting 102 people on September 6, 1620. Along the way, 2 men died and one child born (Oceanus). The ship finally reached the new land on November 9 of that same year, however it did not land in an established settlement, but rather north of any settlement and outside the bounds of England control. Again, the Pilgrims believed God would have them stay, rather than make their way south, so they agreed to set up their town right there.
Not having planned to build, they did not have tools, and being from wealthy families, they were not equipped to build and farm – but now this was a requirement to stay alive. They began by building a common-house, a building that would serve as housing as they continued building the town. And a Church for weekly worship meetings. Weak from their voyage, they worked long days in cold weather, working together to have shelter for the coming winter.
That winter they sustained great hardships. Their common-house nearly burned down, half of the 101 voyagers died from illness, and much effort was spent keeping unfriendly Indians away from the establishment. In all 47 Pilgrims dies includine 31 men, 13 woman, and 3 sons. Through every hardship they sought protection from God and continued in their worship and thanksgiving for the new land. In fact, even one of the sailors known for mocking them, eventually joined them in their worship after seeing them endure such hardship with courage and thanksgiving.
At last the winter thaw came and spring was here. There was an alert as Indians approached, but to their surprise, these Indians were friendly. And to their amazement, one Indian began to speak in English as they met face to face. The pilgrims welcomed Samoset, chief of the Algonquins into their village, believing that God has sent him to help them. Through Samoset, the Pilgrims were then introduced to Squanto, a man who also spoke English and who would then stay on with them, teaching what they needed to know to survive in this new land. He taught them to fish, hunt, harvest maple syrup, and use local herbs as medicine. Even how to grow corn, using fish as fertilizer, the very thing that would take them through the winter to come.
That fall, their first harvest provided more than enough food to last them the winter. With grateful hearts, the Pilgrims put on a feast to honor God and their new friends who would help survive and establish their community. They ate deer and wild turkey, fruit pies, vegetables, and all kinds of treats provide by all that attended. This was the first Thankgiving – one that lasted three days, and one never to be forgotten. It was a time of worship and celebration as they set out to establish freedom in their new land.
Enjoy your thanksgiving and be grateful for all that you have…I know I am.