Why is the story behind Thanksgiving in the United States so important and compelling? Why did it stick in the imagination and become the greatest of the American Holidays? I thought I would summarize it just so we can look back this year with a new appreciation and remind all people that Thanksgiving is for everyone.
In 1620, a group of Christian Separatists from England made their way to The New World. They were known at the time as Scrooby Separatists. We know them in history as The Pilgrims. They wanted to live a life free of the ruling Church of England. They raised money for passage and supplies and convinced The King to give them a Charter. A small group of them headed out to the New World. They ended up on a boat called the Mayflower. Thirty-five of these Separatists were on the Mayflower with another eighty or so people manning the ship. They had a terrible trip across the Atlantic with much suffering and arrived in late fall with no time to get ready for the brutal winter on the New England coast.
Amazing, unexpected marvels transpired for this little band of comrades from the outset. The first was the location of their landing. The original plan was to go further south to Jamestown, not realizing the relations with the Native Peoples were very stressed due to the unsavory nature of those settlers.
Fortunately, they ended up off course and found Cape Cod where these Native People had no preconceived ill-will towards them. Secondly, they found a cleared-out, vacant area with existing food stores. It was an ideal site for instant habitation in a desolate region.
The most amazing marvel came in human form! Not long after they arrived, an English-speaking Native Pawtuxet named Squanto made an entrance into their small settlement greeting them cordially. He was the last surviving member of his tribe. Squanto’s people had died off due to disease in the exact spot that the Pilgrims had landed. This English-speaking man had an amazing story! Squanto had been stolen by some English raiders, taken to England where he learned to speak English then taken back as a guide for hire. He was back with his Pawtuxet family for a short time until he was captured again. He was taken to Spain where some monks purchased him out of slavery to set him free and raised money to send him back home. He came home to Cape Cod to find his people all gone. Brokenhearted, he settled with the Wampanoag People and was welcomed into the group by Chief Massasoit. When he heard that these new settlers had come to Cape Cod, he went to them and introduced himself. They were so grateful to know him and welcomed him into their settlement. He was the unexpected hand of mercy that these starving and sick Pilgrims desperately needed. It was this amazing man Squanto that helped these English Pilgrims to survive that first year and learn how to get by in this new world. It was also Squanto that helped create the amicable relations between Chief Massasoit and the small group of settlers in those very challenging times.
The first harvest season of November in 1621 gave a small bounty of food for this beleaguered group, and more than anything gave them hope of a future of survival. These faithful Pilgrims decided that they needed to take this time to have festivities to give thanks to The Almighty for providing this harvest, this new hope, Squanto, and the friendly relations with their neighbors. They invited Massasoit and his people to come for 3 days, and they hunted and fished together and celebrated with gratitude the wonders that they saw clearly had kept them alive.
Many of the people from the Mayflower that were not Separatists ended up settling with them in this new community. This little group of Separatists was later swallowed up in a greater group of Puritan Believers from England that settled New England.
We look back on this little group this week as an inspiration of hope and blessings that come out at times of great stress and struggle. The peace that this group had as it fought against natural hardship and their thankfulness is inspiring to this day for all peoples and places. This is the message of Thanksgiving.
May we all take stock of the small wonders that we all can see if we look for them, and give thanks for these as we share friendship together this Thanksgiving Holiday!