The story of Thanksgiving holds many common themes found in numerous holidays from across the ages. A people sent adrift in a strange land, unprepared for the perils and hardship. They find themselves set upon by famine and hunger, threatened with oblivion. Then, a kind people take notice of their plight and offer a trade in the form of mutual aid. The exchange is made, and the two peoples prosper as new friendships are formed. This is the spirit of Thanksgiving we hope to embody each year with this timeless tradition of bonding, caring, and giving.
The First Thanksgiving
In September of 1620, about 100 brave souls departed on the Mayflower from England to escape religious persecution, touching down in Cape Cod and founding the colony of Plymouth. Many died on the perilous journey across the Atlantic, and many more died after coming ashore. The English settlers struggled to survive in the New World, as they were unfamiliar with the land and not adept at farming. They were visited by Squanto of the Wampanoag, who was familiar with the English language and the word of God. Squanto taught the people of Plymouth how to grow corn and fertilize the fields, among many other priceless pieces of wisdom. With this knowledge, the struggling colony was able to survive. In return, the English settlers offered may goods to the Wampanoag people, including firearms. Many of the Native American tribes were violent against one another, raiding one another for slaves, food, and other supplies. Some of the Native American tribes were even cannibalistic, taking prisoners to use as food. The firearms of the English settlers offered a unique force multiplier against hostile tribes.
Sometime in March of 1621, after numerous meetings and exchanges, a formal agreement was made between the Plymouth colony and Wampanoag tribe. It was one of the earliest examples of a mutual defense pact in American history. The people of the Plymouth colony and the Wampanoag tribe joined together to defend one another from hostile tribes. Unfortunately, this pact did not last, as many alliances are temporary. However, the spirit of Thanksgiving embodied in this story inspires me to this day, as it does many others.
The first Thanksgiving would have taken place sometime in October, shortly after the harvest. It was later made an official holiday on the fourth Thursday of every November. The peoples of Plymouth and the Wampanoag came together for a feast and several nights of celebration. They had a bountiful hunt and harvest after the two peoples learned from one another and shared their knowledge, wisdom, and tools of the trade. Before the first great feast, they all joined together and gave thanks to God for the fortuitous turn of events at the colony. The celebration lasted three days as the two peoples sang, danced, and held friendly competitions including foot races and shooting contests. It was a powerful moment in human history, filled with so much symbolism and meaning.
What Thanksgiving Means to Me
My family has always celebrated Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember. Each year, I find myself loving the holiday more and more. It is not every day I get to see many of my extended family members, each with their own lives which take them to other parts of the world. I also appreciate seeing events one can find where public feasts are held around town, bringing members of the community together who may have otherwise never met.
Even more precious can be a small get-together with friends new and old to share in the bounty and blessings we enjoy from the society our ancestors have built up over generations. As we stand upon the shoulders of giants, we give thanks for the efforts of those who came before and gave us the chance to achieve heights greater than past civilizations may have ever imagined possible. Together, we can face down the darkness set upon us, and know no fear as we strive forth into the light.
I look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving again this year with my family and friends, and to sharing my journey this holiday season in the form of song and poetry, bringing light into the world in my own little way.
Do you celebrate Thanksgiving? If so, how? Do you get together with family or friends? What sorts of things do you give thanks for? I hope everyone has a great week this week and a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.
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