It has been a number of years since the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag gathered to celebrate Colonial America’s first successful harvest. In fact, it has been 396 years (or so) as best we can tell. And while our modern celebrations are as much about a big New York City parade, a football rivalry, or some good ‘ol Stovetop, there are still dots on our landscape that take this one day of the year to truly give thanks for their homes,their families, their freedom, and their harvest.
Within ten months of landing on Plymouth Rock (see: Was There A Tiny House On Plymouth Rock), the Pilgrims had constructed seven houses, a common meeting room and three storehouses for their harvested goods. After a long, hard winter in which a number of settlers died of either hypothermia, complications of frostbite, malnutrition, pneumonia or other illnesses due to unfavorable conditions and ill-equip, there was much to be thankful for.
Despite what some would like to think, our ancestors were not vegans or foragers or even purveyors of tasty tofu. They were meat eaters; and in 1621, eating meat meant hunting, killing and dressing it yourself. Being settled in the bay area, duck and waterfowl were more than likely the meat du jour. Roasted over an open fire, the freshly plucked ducks were often heralded in these meals of thanksgiving. The children were involved in more tedious activities such as grinding corn and sifting oats.
And there was no shortage of hot or tedious work as the first Thanksgiving was to ultimately last three days providing food for nearly 150 people; pilgrims and natives combined. Other foods may very well have included Concord grapes, butternut squash, and collard or mustard greens as well as other fall-hardy varieties, as well as pastries and pies made from rich, juicy plums and apricots.
We’ve come a long way since then. Now we can order a complete Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings from our local Whole Foods or Fresh Market. We can get a deep fried turkey from Bojangles. Even Cracker Barrel offers a traditional meal on Thanksgiving. Is it possible then to really give thanks when everything in the world is right at our fingertips? Of course it is! The trick though is that we have to make time to give thanks. We have to make a true giving of thanks a priority.
Many of us – no, most of us, do not have gardens or meager farms. We have 1/4 acre plots if we’re lucky that fall under HOA guidelines and perhaps don’t afford us the opportunity to work the soil with our hands. In other words, we take our harvest for granted. But that is just a harvest of food. For every one of us that doesn’t have a corn cob to shuck or a turkey to pluck there is ten of us who have a son or daughter to embrace, a spouse to gaze lovingly at, or a home to be thankful for. Each of us has something in our lives that we probably don’t deserve. Again, we take our harvest for granted. If we are to continue though as a nation or as a civilized people we must begin to again take time for these things. We must gather together in blood families and relational families and indulge in our proverbial cranberry sauce casseroles, squash soufflé, and “just like mom’s” apple pie.
Without getting the least bit political or offensive to any people group, I say this. As our pilgrim and Native American forefathers sat down to a banquet of the Earth’s bounty they had little to thank more than the Wampanoag people and their leader, Massasoit. For like an old farmhand or a wise grandpa, Massasoit employed his tribe to teach the pilgrims to hunt deer, catch eel and grow corn. He forged relationship with even those who had come to plunder in some way. And according to legend, Massasoit even sent food donations to the pilgrims to help them survive that first winter.
We don’t know the words to the thanksgiving prayer that included (what history calls) an otherwise savage group of natives and their adopted family of rag-tag pilgrims. But I like to think it sounded something like,
“Thank you Father. For each man that gathers here today represents a family; a tribe. He is a son, a brother, and a father. As he was provided for so shall he provide. We are joined by our brothers who, while they may wear a different skin, are brothers no less. They have graciously shown us how to be stewards of this land and preserve the very gift of humanity. And as we enjoy the harvest, the very fruits of our labor, we ask that in this next year – like trees – you allow our roots to grow deeper and our limbs to grow stronger.”
May the season of harvest fall richly upon your family this year as it has on the Tiny r(E)volution.