Thursday, November 27, 2008

More than Macy's

I admit I like to shop at Macy's and I enjoy sitting on the street curb and watching a good parade. I love my mom's gravy soaking the turkey and potatoes and I think it's a good idea to look back over the last year and list the things one is thankful for.

In addition to all this though, I think it is right to understand and remember the significance of the first "Thanksgiving". Through kids' books mostly, especially lately, I have come to appreciate the truly grueling and sacrificial nature of the Pilgrims and Native Americans way back in the 1600's; so far back that it really takes a lot of effort to try to re-create in my mind exactly how it must have looked, felt, smelled and tasted at that first feast.

One book we have titled The First Thanksgiving by Jean Craighead George has some excerpts that give a glimpse of what the Pilgrim/Native reality may have been. "Food supplies dwindled. The Pilgrim men killed a few fowl and dug clams and mussels. But they were townspeople, they knew little about hunting and fishing....Disease followed hunger, and death followed disease. Eight Pilgrims dies in January, seventeen in February, and thirteen in March. The dead were buried in the darkness of night. The Pilgrims did not want the 'savages' to know how many had died for fear of attack. They marked their graves only with prayer."

Later, on the Mayflower's return to England..."On a cool April day, hungry and thin, their clothes threadbare, the citizens of Plymouth watched the Mayflower set sail for England. Not one person asked to return."

Several pages are then devoted to Squanto's dedication to the Pilgrims in teaching basic survival skills in this new place.

Then, after the winter was over, "For three days the Pilgrims and Indians feasted, played games, and shot guns and arrows. This was not a day of Pilgrim thanksgiving, which was every Thursday from dawn to dusk. This was pure celebration...The Pilgrims called the celebration a Harvest Feast. The Indians thought of it as a Green Corn Dance. It was both and more than both."

I just marvel at many things about this story, but mostly again at the strength of a tired, worn out, yet courageous people who entered a strange place and in humility and trust were trained and taught to use the knowledge of people who didn't have to spend one minute with them. Of course, I don't know all the details of their interactions. I know it's not just that simple. But courage, fortitude and just plain compassion were certainly present a this time.

Also, I am still convinced that sharing a meal is more than just eating together and tasting good food. Something happens to unite a people when they break bread together. Our common need to eat turns into a blessed time. We gather together around one table (getting rarer these days among families), we physically sit close together, pass common bowls and platters around, help each other serve, and just talk.

Maybe at this first feast there were still tensions, questions about how they would survive the 2nd winter, doubt that this was the right thing to do, and fear that anyone involved (Pilgrim or Indian) would be giving up their own traditions, health, well being, etc. But, thanks be to God for a few people, new to the land and those already well versed in it, who sacrificed much, without the least knowledge of where it would lead or what would come of it.

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