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A Pilgrim Religious Observance to a National Day of Thanks

Contributor: Jim Kearney

Thanksgiving Day has been celebrated since the first Thanksgiving in 1621.

In  1863 Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it a national holiday and it has been officially celebrated since on the last Thursday in November.  Prior to that Thanksgiving Day moved around a little. There were efforts, at times, to move the holiday to Friday but it never passed.

Many people took the Friday off anyway and it soon became the kickoff day for the Christmas shopping season. Today it's a day commonly referred to a Black Friday.  But I digress...

Across the United States families and friends gather together, some traveling a long distance, to eat and give thanks for all their blessings. They offer a prayer of thanksgiving before the meal as the Pilgrims did. At some gatherings, each person will be encouraged to express what they are most thankful for on that special day.

To be sure many of us, but not all to varying degrees,  have much to be thankful for and to be blunt it's easy to be thankful for a life with little real hardship.

 I only mention this because I think it serves us well to remember those who brought the first Thanksgiving to America and what they had to endure before they were able to have their Thanksgiving feast in a new land.  So I offer the following for your consideration.

The rock sits on the  shore of Plymouth Harbor in Massachusetts commemorating  the historical landing in November in the year 1620. That landing was a prelude to a very harsh and difficult winter after a very harsh and difficult ocean crossing.

The landing could not have been more ill timed. Just before winter with no time to plant seeds to sustain the newly arrived Pilgrims. The weather had already turned so harsh that it was impossible to build any shelter.

 The passengers and crew who shared the cramped, dark and damp quarters below deck during the difficult crossing were also forced to endure the same living quarters on the Mayflower through the winter. 

All of the food on the ship had been consumed during the crossing. Fishing, hunting and scavenging the local inhabitant's stored food supplies helped but not enough,

Over half of the original crew and passengers perished due to illness and starvation during the first year. 

The remaining settlers did not have an easy time in setting up the colony. The lack of a healthy diet caused many health issues. There lifestyle was communal and it took several years before individual homes began to populate the colony.

Despite everything that the settlers had endured their faith in god and their belief that it was all part of God's plan sustained their spirit and pushed them forward.

Not one person asked to go back to England when the Mayflower sailed out of the bay to its home port.

During the first spring the Plymouth Settlers developed a relationship with the indigenous Wampanoag Indian Tribe.  They joined the colony settlers that November a year after the landing for America's first Thanksgiving feast. A new celebration for the Wampanoag but for the Pilgrim settlers it was a religious continuation of a special day of prayer for thanks for all of God's gifts after a bountiful harvest.

The first Thanksgiving lasted three days and included many of today's traditional foods such as fowl, ham, seafood, corn and bread made from corn, fruit, pumpkin, and squash. Written reports from several Pilgrims expressed that it was a great feast indeed.

William Bradford was elected the governor of Plymouth Colony after the death of John Carver who survived only a few months after the landing.  Bradford served in that capacity for thirty years and governed the Plymouth Colony in the model of self government through the Mayflower Compact that was written and signed on the Mayflower in November 1620.

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