It’s that time of year again! Stores are already stocking for Easter, beer is flying off the shelves, some folks are Christmas shopping, and most everybody has turned the heat up indoors. In our fast-paced American culture, I think a lot of people miss the deeper things. A few of us are lucky and have the time to sit and ruminate on meanings and origins, but I fear that the vast majority of Americans are too busy with their everyday lives; their jobs, activities, family life, you name it, to mentally engage some interesting topics that mostly go by the wayside under the categories of “uninteresting,” “maybe later,” or “there’s something more important.”
I don’t watch football myself, but I’ve heard from many friends that this is a common Thanksgiving Day occupation. People have a big family get-together, eat some fancy food, pop open the beers, and sit down to watch some fast dues run across the field and make big bucks.
I’m not here to discourage watching football on Thanksgiving, by any means. It’s a fun game, entertaining, often inspiring to those of us who are packing a few extra pounds (myself included), and overall a good pastime. However, I can’t imagine that this is what Americans were doing in 1623 when television had not even been dreamed of and people were still using the stars as their Global Positioning System. So how did Thanksgiving start?
We’ve all heard the stories about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans getting together for a big feast, but when and why is not often covered. In the Free Birds movie, people are depicted eating pizza instead of turkey. Pizza was first sold commercially in 1897 by an Italian man named Gennaro Lombardi, so that theory is out, even if we’re accounting for time travel, because as soon as those turkeys go back into the future, Lombardi no longer has the corner on the market and pizza probably doesn’t exist anymore. And while turkey may have been on the Pilgrims’ spread, it was definitely not the main course. Chronicler Edward Winslow recorded that the Wampanoag Indians brought five deer to the feast, and also that the Pilgrims had gone fowling beforehand, which implies any number of birds such as ducks, geese and swans could have been brought back. And they didn’t have cranberry sauce on their meat: the sugar onboard the Mayflower during the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean was almost depleted by November 1621. Cooks didn’t start boiling cranberries with sugar and serving the concoction with meat until about 1670.
Food-related rituals aside, why did the feast happen in the first place? Why were the Indians a part of it? Did the Pilgrims have a really amazing harvest year and want to throw a party? Well, that was part of it. But one of the reasons that they had such a great harvest was because the Wampanoag tribe showed them how to grow corn or maize, which had not been grown in or brought over from England. Backing up a step, the Pilgrims had had a terrible previous year filled with sickness and food shortages. If they had not been taught to grow some of the native grains, they may not have survived. So, the Thanksgiving feast was held not only to thank God for their new country, their lives, freedom, and recovery from the sickness, but also to thank the Wampanoag for teaching them the skills they needed to have in order to survive in the new climate.
Today we tend to breeze by the history of the event as we eat food and watch football, but it should at least trigger some recognition and appreciation when we realize that without the Pilgrims working so hard to get here across the Atlantic, the Wampanoag tribe showing them the ropes, and God’s Providence protecting and leading them the entire way, we wouldn’t have the luxuries we have today, and there most likely wouldn’t be a Thanksgiving Day at all.
If you want to learn more about how the Pilgrims got here, what they did when they arrived, and why God was such a huge part of the voyage, watch the movie “Monumental” (linked below).
In conclusion, let’s make Thanksgiving, instead of a time to focus on our appetite, a time to reflect on all the amazing and wonderful things that God has done for us, to be grateful for the people around us, and to remember the struggle of the Pilgrims that got us to where we are today!