This Thanksgiving, families will gather around the table to share a banquet of foods traditional to the holiday – roasted turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, pumpkin pie and more. We do this in imitation and commemoration of the first Thanksgiving banquet enjoyed in 1621 by the pilgrims of the Mayflower and the Indians in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
That indeed is a beautiful and meaningful tradition.
The pilgrims had much for which to give thanks. They’d survived the arduous 66-day trip across the Atlantic Ocean, suffered their first winter aboard the Mayflower, we befriended by the Native Americans, learned to plant and harvest crops, and hunt and fish to provide for themselves. As a result, they’d had a bountiful harvest to celebrate.
They had so much to celebrate, in fact, that they feasted for three days, not just one as we do now. They had something else to celebrate as well, something that I think often gets missed as we stuff ourselves along with the turkey.
They celebrated harmony between themselves and the Wampanoag tribe of Indians.
When the pilgrims disembarked the Mayflower, they were greeted by an Abenaki Indian who spoke English. Several days later, the same Indian visited them again, this time with a Pawtuxet Indian named Squanto. Squanto spoke English as well, having spent time in London after being kidnapped by an English sea captain who’d sold him into slavery. Squanto managed to return to his homeland and upon meeting the pilgrims, taught them how to survive in the new land.
Squanto also helped the pilgrims form an alliance with the Wampanoag Indians, an alliance that lasted 50 years. It was the Wampanoag Indians who had worked with the pilgrims and celebrated the first Thanksgiving with them.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the food and feasting that’s become our Thanksgiving tradition. Sharing a meal together is an important part of our culture and a real way of building unity. The Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest time of year for travel because so many folks head home to celebrate with family and friends.
I also love the idea of stopping to give thanks for who we share that meal with, and for those who can’t be present to share it with us. Speaking for myself, I don’t think I do that often enough or as widely as I should.
The pilgrims gave thanks for people who had befriended them, become a part of their lives, and then taught them valuable life lessons. I have people in my own life that have done similar for me. I have family members, friends, and colleagues who have taken me by the hand – literally and figuratively – and taught me things I needed to know to survive in this often-crazy world. Yet, I can be forgetful about the harmony I’ve shared with them or what I’ve learned from them.
The pilgrims didn’t forget the harmony they shared with the Wampanoag Indians or what they’d learned from them. Perhaps that sentiment can grace our tables as well as the food this Thanksgiving.