Thanksgiving. The name speaks for itself. The official holiday to give thanks.
We get caught up in our family gatherings, bountiful feasts of homemade food, football games and afternoon naps from all the tryptophan from the much-too-big turkey meals. The first Thanksgiving was much different. In fact, the first Thanksgiving wasn’t even considered Thanksgiving.
It was a day of thanks, though.
The Pilgrims were accustomed from their culture to celebrate numerous times each year, one of which was after a successful harvest.
The Pilgrims settled in a land that was mostly abandoned after a plague had struck the Patuxet tribe, leaving only one survivor. The first winter was harsh, and of the 100 settlers who arrived on the Mayflower, exactly 50 lived through the first year. Seemingly, it was not a very hospitable area of the country to survive.
But the remaining 50 Pilgrims had a successful harvest, providing enough to last through the coming winter. And, as was custom in England, they decided to partake in a celebration.
Squanto, the last remaining Patuxet, as well as the Wampanoag tribe helped the Pilgrims through that first winter with rations and teaching them how to catch eel. In return, after the harvest, the Pilgrims invited 90 native Americans to their feast.
It is a best guess that the first Thanksgiving occurred sometime around the end of September or first of October, although there was no date recorded. There are two accounts of the celebration, speaking of the bounty that made it such a success.
It was said that four of the Pilgrims went on a one-day hunt as waterfowl began to migrate to the area. In that one day, those four took enough birds to feed the entire community for over a week. Along with the fowl, the Wampanoag also hunted with the Pilgrims, taking five deer and a number of wild turkey.
There was food for everyone, and food to store through harsher times as well. So much so that it was written it was a land of plenty. This was in harsh contrast to the first winter in which the Pilgrims did not have enough to survive on their own.
Two years later, Thanksgiving became much more of a civil holiday, as the celebration was proclaimed by the government rather than the church. The celebration lasted three days after 14 days of rain and their largest harvest since coming to the New World. The celebration was held at the end of July, one day before more colonists arrived from England on a supply ship.
Out of all of this, there should be just as much thanks given to those who helped each other survive that first winter. Different peoples working together to help each make it one more day at a time. No harsh invasions, taking of resources against another’s will, or push of influence but, instead, humans helping humans because it was right and just and natural.
We could learn a lot from studying this time again.