Every year, Americans gather with family and friends to celebrate a unique American holiday, Thanksgiving. The name of the holiday remains intact on most public school calendars as the concept of being thankful is easy enough to secularize without changing the name. So, unlike the traditional Christmas and Easter breaks, its original name remains. But the depths of thankfulness of the Pilgrims are glossed over and the origins of our national holiday are over looked. It is doubtful that a public school history teacher could recount the events and meaning of the original Thanksgiving and our national holiday, even to read the original documents, without accusations of introducing religious teachings into the classroom.
Each year I make an effort to recount the trials which led to the original Thanksgiving as my family gathers at the table and begins to celebrate in our own prayer of Thanksgiving. I use a synopsis taken from Historian Peter Marshall’s book The Light and the Glory.
This year, however, I will read the proclamation penned by George Washington to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. It truly captures the thankfulness of a man who had personally experienced Divine intervention on so many occasions as he led his rag-tag army in America’s War for Independence. Each of these readings is short enough to be shared at the Thanksgiving table before the food gets cold, while adding so much more meaning to the celebration. Feel free to make use of them and have a very Happy and Thankful Thanksgiving.
THE PILGRIMS FIRST THANKSGIVING
The Pilgrims arrived in the New World aboard the Mayflower in November of 1620 after 66 days on stormy seas. They arrived more than 2months later than they had planned because their original ship became unseaworthy and they had to return to port and acquire a new ship. After an additional 3weeks of exploration, they established their settlement at Plymouth Rock in what is now Massachusetts.
Of the 102 souls who set sail on the Mayflower in August of that year, only 55 survived to the following spring.
Their main shelter through the winter remained the Mayflower and they built a single common house ashore. During the course of the winter months their diet consisted of dried pork, dried peas, and dried fish.
The worst losses came in the winter months. In the month of December they lost 6, in January: 8, in February: 17, in March: 14 — all told losing 47 over the course of the journey. Only four of the married couples
The summer months of 1621 proved bountiful. In the spring, a former Indian slave taught them how to plant corn and the breeding cycles of the salmon and cod which made their runs in the spring. New dwellings were constructed.
With the successful harvest, Governor Bradford declared a day of public Thanksgiving to be held in October. They invited the Indians and the Chief Massasoit showed up with 90 from his tribe. This caused a bit of despair among the Pilgrims at first as feeding such a large crowd would cut deeply into their winter food supply.
“But they learned one thing through their travails, it was to trust God implicitly. As it turned out, the Indians were not arriving emptyhanded. Massasoit had commanded his braves to hunt for the occasion, and they
arrived with no less than five dressed deer and more than a dozen fat wild turkeys! And they helped with the preparations, teaching the Pilgrim women how to make hoecakes and a tasty pudding out of corn meal and maple syrup. Finally,they showed them an Indian delicacy: how to roast corn until it popped.
The Pilgrims in turn, provided many vegetables from their household gardens; carrots, onions turnips, parsnips, cucumbers, radishes, beets and cabbages. Also, using some of their precious flour, they took the summer fruits the Indians had dried and introduced them to the likes of blueberry, apple, and cherry pie. It was all washed down with sweet wine made from the wild grapes. ”
Between the meals, there were many games and competitions with foot races, shooting contests, and military drills led by Captain Miles Standish. Things went so well the celebration lasted three days.
Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation
[New York, 3 October 1789]
By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the
national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether
in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge
and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Peter; The Light and the Glory, Baker Book House Company; Grand Rapids,
Michigan, 1977, pp 106, 126-127, 135-136.