Everybody knows the story of the first Thanksgiving meal, but maybe not all of it. Basically, here it is.
The Pilgrims, who originated in England, entertained the Indians (Native Americans) with a large meal in what would later be the Plymouth, Massachusetts area. As I was researching the story I came across a lot of new (to me) facts. See if they are new to you.
The Pilgrims journey began a long time before the Thanksgiving feast. In England, they became disenchanted with the Church of England headed by King James, who had studied theology and loved to debate it. These were the times of translation of the Bible called the King James Version, begun in 1604 and finished in 1611. Done by 47 scholars, it conformed to the teachings of the Episcopal Church of England. It was an amazing literary and theological achievement at that time to produce the third English version of the Bible.
The Pilgrims were separatists, who left the Church of England and started their own. The Puritans (a far larger group of 1,000) just wanted to reform the church. The Pilgrims started as Puritans, but pulled away from that group. One big difference was that the Pilgrims were working class people and the Puritans were more educated and even studied theology. The Pilgrims celebrated camaraderie and cooperation as evidenced by their friendship with the Native Americans. On the other hand the Puritans conducted witch trials and burned people under suspicion of heresy.
Known as more extreme, the Puritans put forth a petition to the Church of England to ban use of the sign of the Cross in Baptism, exchanging rings for marriage, the rite of confirmation and bowing at the name of Jesus during worship. The King wasn’t happy with them.
The Pilgrims first left England for Holland, where they could worship as they pleased and would not be subject to the King. When they left the church, it was an insult to King James and because of that their lives were in jeopardy in England.
But life was hard in Holland. The children were soon speaking Dutch and moving away from the new church. They needed a place of their own and the group of about 100 decided to sail to America. They hired two ships, the Speedwell and Mayflower. I know you’ve heard of them.
Early in the journey, the Speedwell developed problems and had to return to Holland. The Mayflower returned also and some of the Speedwell passengers were loaded onto the Mayflower.
On the voyage, it was cold, uncomfortable and crowded. The children cried, the sea was rough and many got sick, plus a baby was born. Sounds ugly! The trip was about three long months.
The Pilgrims arrived nearly 400 years ago, in November of 1620. Their first view of America was nothing but rocks, sand and hard bare ground, landing at Plymouth Rock (later that would become part of Massachusetts). Construction of the first home was begun on Christmas Day. Winter temperatures were miserable, people suffered from starvation and disease and before spring came, half had died.
Fortunately, the Indians living there were friendly and one in particular, named Squanto, spoke fluent English and served as translator and guide. He showed them how to plant corn, peas, squash, wheat and barley. The next fall, in 1621, the first Thanksgiving feast was held. It lasted three days. The Indians brought five deer and it is believed fish were a part of the meal. (There was no mention of turkey.)
Later, in 1630, the Puritans arrived in many ships and settled in Massachusetts Bay. By 1640 the population in New England numbered about 20,000 Pilgrims and Puritans.
Our Thanksgiving feast has been celebrated officially since 1789. Next week we will all be at it again. Happy Thanksgiving!
(Melanie Behrens – firstname.lastname@example.org)
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