2008 11 - Proper Thanksgiving
Did you ever wonder who we have to thank for the American holiday of Thanksgiving? “The pilgrims” might be your answer. I seem to remember that from grade school. And that grade school answer might be all you have needed over the years to support your grand celebration with family and close friends. But if someone were to ask you to give them details on the origin of this festival, where would you go to find out? You might consider the internet. Look what I found from The History Channel web site (www.history.com).
In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast which is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. This harvest meal has become a symbol of cooperation and interaction between English colonists and Native Americans. Although this feast is considered by many to the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops. Native American groups throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America.
Historians have also recorded other ceremonies of thanks among European settlers in North America, including British colonists in Berkeley Plantation, Virginia. At this site near the Charles River in December of 1619, a group of British settlers led by Captain John Woodlief knelt in prayer and pledged “Thanksgiving” to God for their healthy arrival after a long voyage across the Atlantic. This event has been acknowledged by some scholars and writers as the official first Thanksgiving among European settlers on record. Whether at Plymouth, Berkeley Plantation, or throughout the Americas, celebrations of thanks have held great meaning and importance over time. The legacy of thanks, and particularly of the feast, have survived the centuries as people throughout the United States gather family, friends, and enormous amounts of food for their yearly Thanksgiving meal.
Think about what you eat for Thanksgiving. Do you want to know what was probably on the menu of the 17th century settlers of America?
Seafood: Cod, Eel, Clams, Lobster
Wild Fowl: Wild Turkey, Goose, Duck, Crane, Swan, Partridge, Eagles
Meat: Venison, Seal
Grain: Wheat Flour, Indian Corn
Vegetables: Pumpkin, Peas, Beans, Onions, Lettuce, Radishes, Carrots
Fruit: Plums, Grapes
Nuts: Walnuts, Chestnuts, Acorns
Herbs and Seasonings: Olive Oil, Liverwort, Leeks, Dried Currants, Parsnips
What? No pumpkin pie or cranberry dressing??? Shades of present-day traditional Thanksgiving dinner can be seen in the historical records, but the above list is still very different from what we serve on our tables. And so it can be with our own celebrations of Church customs and traditions. How much understanding do we have of the historical and canonical basis for those Church holidays we hold dear, many of which are coming up very soon? If we take the time to look, we might find them very different than what we understand and practice today.
Thankfully, we have a wealth of information available to us to show us why we do what we do during our Church holidays. Please take time to remind yourselves and your families of the true history and practice of our celebrations, especially as we enter into the Advent season this month (November 15). And may your heart be filled with proper Thanksgiving to God for the abundance of His provisions unto you and those you hold dear.