Most Americans know the story of Squanto and how he helped the Pilgrims of Plymouth, Massachusetts survive the winter of 1621 by showing them how to adapt to their new home. School children everywhere still celebrate the great tidings with cornucopias and pilgrim hats and turkeys drawn by tracing a hand and coloring in the fingers like feathers. The thumb is always the turkey’s head.
However, there was an even earlier American Thanksgiving with much the same story on December 4th, 1619 when 38 English settlers arrived at what is now called Berkeley Plantation. Back then the plantation ran for 8,000 acres along the north bank of the James River and it still exists today as a significantly smaller estate just outside of Richmond, Virginia.
Every year the actual First Thanksgiving between the nearby tribes and white settlers is still celebrated when the estate is opened to the public, www.BerkeleyPlantation.com.
That first ceremony of gratitude was held only 20 miles upstream from Jamestown, the first settlement by Europeans started in 1607 and known as the Virginia Colony that was to take hold and survive. The white settlers wanted to celebrate their continued existence and express gratitude for everything they had and were about to receive.
The entire thing was actually more of a religious service than a festival.
We’ve gotten away from that and for some good reasons. It’s an every-American celebration, which means we include the entire great big melting pot of traditions and religions or lack thereof. Besides, about 157 years later the Founding Fathers felt a separation between Church and State was best for everyone.
That doesn’t mean we have to lose the emphasis on gratitude and this is where a spiritual basis of some kind makes it easier.
Gratitude is based on the idea of not only giving thanks for what we’ve had and what we have now but also for the good we believe is yet to unfold in front of us. That last part is key because without it we’re giving thanks but running the list of worries through our heads at the same exact moment.
We’re glad we have a home but are worried about paying the mortgage. Glad our children are gathered around us but have concerns that Junior will get all the way through college.
That’s actually control dressed up for the holidays as a weak attempt at gratitude.
The real thing requires a certain amount of surrender to the idea that all of life is basically good. Thank you for our warm home and this meal in front of us and these lovely people gathered around it, the end. We know that all is well and whatever comes up we will get through together.
Try doing that though without a belief in a Higher Power and it’s almost impossible. So much of gratitude can require celebrating where someone is even when we don’t agree with them or can’t see how it’s all going to work out for the best.
The payoff though is that the people we love get to see that we believe in them right where they are in life and we’re willing to celebrate that idea with them. Plus, we remind ourselves that even if we don’t know what’s up ahead we will walk through it together with others and look for the blessings no matter the circumstance.
Also on this day, please remember to give special words of gratitude at every table in America where people are gathered for our armed service men and women who continue to stand guard even on this holiday so that others can live in a democracy.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
(E-mail Martha at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.)