As we celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday that traces its roots to that first Thanksgiving, a feast that owed homage to the old English custom of Harvest Home, we often forget what Pilgrims truly are.



When a small band of colonists gathered around a table to celebrate a successful harvest and survival, it was not because their experience had been so good or life was so sweet. In the time since their arrival, the Pilgrims had suffered disease, starvation and great hardships. Had it not been for the intervention of the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans, the Pilgrims might all have perished and the colony faded into history. As we celebrate our own Thanksgiving, a modern holiday that traces its roots to that first Thanksgiving, a feast that owed homage to the old English custom of Harvest Home, we often forget what Pilgrims truly are.

We think about sober, serious settlers dressed in stark black and white. Too often we forget what the word “pilgrim” means -- someone who journeys far, often someone who travels to reach a holy place or for religious reasons. We forget that this group of settlers contained people who had left England earlier in search of religious freedom and freedom from persecution. We also forget what we may have learned in history class that aboard the Mayflower, there were two groups of colonists, Saints and Strangers. The Saints were those who were religious, the Strangers those who simply sought a better life in the New World. It was not until the Mayflower sighted land that the two groups hammered out the Mayflower Compact, joining the two groups into one, called Pilgrims.

Although that November day in 1621 may be the “first Thanksgiving,” it was not the only such observance in the early colonial period. It was not until 1817 that the first state, New York, set aside an official day of Thanksgiving. Although many other states followed suit, there was no national day of Thanksgiving until President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed such a day in 1863, during the Civil War. Each American president since Lincoln has issued a Presidential proclamation for Thanksgiving. It has become a national holiday that Americans of all creeds come together to celebrate.

We all celebrate Thanksgiving in our own ways, some with traditional feasts of turkey and dressing, pumpkin pies and gravy. Others celebrate with other meats, ham, lobster, chicken, pork or a good roast beef. Some may mark the day with party trays and pizzas. There are families who dine at a favorite restaurant for Thanksgiving. As Americans, we mark the day with church services, with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and with football. Some gather for family reunions while others mark the day in small numbers but with no less joy. There are those who travel to favorite vacation destinations to mark the day and those who begin planning their holiday shopping. Although I am not among them, there are families who decorate for Christmas on or even before Thanksgiving.

As Americans prepare to gather around the family table for a feast this year, our nation is facing some of the bleakest economic times in recent memory. Many families are dealing with downsizing, budget cuts that have trimmed all the extras from life, things like magazine subscriptions, cable television, and cell phones considered near necessities a short time ago.
Across the nation, people are dealing with the loss of homes, jobs, pay cuts and cutbacks. It might seem like these days are a time for sorrow and not thanksgiving. Americans are worried about their homes, their jobs, and how they will be able to pay the bills or buy groceries. With these concerns stacked atop the other stresses of daily life, many of us feel crunched or burdened.

That is why it is more important than ever to celebrate Thanksgiving, to gather together with our own traditions to give thanks for all that is good in our lives, the intangible, never changing things that truly important: family, faith, and friends. In this way, we join with the original Pilgrims as they gathered to enjoy a feast quite different that ours but with the same spirit of true thanksgiving at the table.

Neosho Daily News