Holidays are ‘holy’ days, set apart as memorials. It’s a time to remember our history. Remembering our history gives us a sense of identity; an understanding of who we are as a nation. History sows seeds of gratefulness because it gives us perspective of other’s sacrifices, and our abundant blessings. History inspires us.
Here are 3 simple ideas to keep our heritage alive at Thanksgiving.
1. Read the Pilgrim’s Story.
William Bradford’s ‘Of Plimouth Plantation’ is an excellent first-hand account of the first settlers at Plymouth. Barbara Rainy’s ‘Thanksgiving, A Time to Remember’ is an abbreviated version of the Pilgrims that is perfect for the whole family to enjoy. My family would read during the week of Thanksgiving.
You can find the book at http://pathwaytoliberty.com/product/thanksgiving-time-remember/
Standing in a circle, or sitting at the Thanksgiving table, a child may read it, or have several people alternating it by paragraph. I have included our reading below for your use.
Faith, Family, Freedom
On September 6, 1620, a small group of men, women, boys and girls set sail on the Mayflower for a long, dramatic voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. Of the 102 passengers, most of them were in their twenties and thirties, 33 of them were children and a handful of them were in their fifties. They had a vision of faith, family and freedom.
The conditions on the Mayflower voyage were treacherous.
The rooms they spent most of their time in were crowded and mainly below deck. The hull of the ship was only five feet high causing many to be hunched over. The food was terrible-brine-soaked beef, pork, and fish and stale, hard biscuits, which often were full of insects. The rats living on board helped themselves to the same food supplies. The miserable conditions and cramped quarters added to the seasick people, who vomited into pails-if they were able to find any on time. There were no sanitary toilets; the hatches were sealed off because of constant storms, and so the passengers were unable to get fresh air. You can imagine the smell.
In addition to the foul conditions, the seamen added to their problems. The seamen did not care for ‘landlubbers’ and especially not religious ones. The pilgrims were called “psalm-singing puke stockings.” One sailor in particular was very nasty. About two weeks out to sea, this sailor unexpectedly developed a raging fever. Within a day he died of an unknown sickness, raving and cursing as he breathed his last breath. He was buried at sea. This sobered the other seamen, not wanting a similar fate, the superstitious sailors no longer ridiculed their passengers.
Once the Mayflower was about halfway across the Atlantic, a ferocious storm hit. Waves fifty feet and higher repeated struck the little ship. The waves opened cracks in the hull where icy seawater leaked into the passenger’s quarters. A crossbeam supporting the deck cracked due to the constant pounding of the high winds. One man named John Howland became so frantic after being cooped up so long during the long storm. Though the worst was over, he disobeyed all orders and went above deck for some fresh air. The ship suddenly heeled without warning, John fell overboard. As the young man slammed into the icy water and went under, he instinctively reached up his arms, a rope was trailing over the side of the ship and by God’s amazing grace, it snaked around his wrist and they were able to pull him back onto the ship. A man can only survive in the icy Atlantic for four minutes. Somehow he survived.
The rest of the voyage, with multiple storms and trials, the pilgrims saw only one death. In addition, a baby was born.
On November 9th, after 65 days at sea, they sighted land. The vision of faith, family and freedom was coming to pass. In gratefulness the pilgrims fell to their knees and read Psalm 100:
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who had made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him; bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And His faithfulness to all generations.
After several days of working around the cape, the leaders of the Mayflower drafted an agreement. They drafted the Mayflower Compact, which was to become one of the most important documents in American history. In this document “it marked the first time in recorded history that free and equal men had voluntarily covenanted together to create their own new civil government.” John Carver was the first elected governor with a one year term.
Shortly after coming on land, the coldest stretch of winter was upon them. Many fell ill. On any given day, of the 101 pilgrims, only 6 or 7 were well enough to tend the sick. Pilgrims began to die in alarming numbers-often two or three each day. The men strong enough for work carried the bodies out for burial at night.
The food supply was minimal. By the end of the winter, ½ of the Pilgrims had died. Some entire families were gone.
Come spring, with the days lengthening and the temperatures warming, the Pilgrims turned their attention to planting crops that they would desperately need to survive the second winter in America. But they were interrupted by the appearance of a small band of Indians. Squanto was one of the Indians, who had been captured and sent to Europe as a slave. Since he was away, a plague wiped out his tribe, he was the lone surviving Pautuxet from the Plymouth area. He had been back in his native area for only 6 months and he spoke English.
Squanto stayed in the area and adopted these families as his own, never leaving them until he died. He showed the Pilgrims how to catch eels and fish at the river and use it as fertilizer for their planting of corn. He taught them to plant pumpkins and tap maple trees for syrup. These would save their lives in the winter to come.
In October 1621 the corn was ready for harvest. The Pilgrims were filled with gratitude for their renewed health, for the abundant harvest and for the peace they enjoyed with the Indians. William Bradford was now their governor following the death of John Carver that summer. As governor he declared that Plymouth should hold a thanksgiving festival and invite their Indian friends as special guests. When it was time to eat, the menu was impressive: venison, goose, lobster, eel, oysters, clam chowder, parsnips, turnips, cucumbers, onions, carrots, cabbage, beets, radishes and dried fruit such as gooseberries, strawberries, cherries and plums. A special treat was supplied by the Indians. They put corn over a fire and it popped into white puffs-popcorn! They then drizzled it with maple syrup making popcorn balls.
Before their meal they offered a prayer to God who had clearly, miraculously, brought them to this place. The feasting continued over three days with games and food and celebration. All included their Indian friends.
In 1777 the first national day of thanksgiving was declared following the victory at Saratoga over the British. The Continental Congress declared “A day of public Thanksgiving and prayer be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.”
The Pilgrims vision of faith, family and freedom was realized at the first Thanksgiving table as it is realized in each one of us at our Thanksgiving table. So with thankful hearts we remember the sacrifices of others that have gone before us. And we treasure our heritage of faith, family and freedom.
2. 5 Kernels of Corn.
Did you know that during the ‘starving time’, the Pilgrims survived on five kernels of corn for their daily food ration?
As a memorial of the sacrifice of those who have gone before us, set your Thanksgiving table and put 5 kernels of corn on each plate. To remember the Pilgrims and their great sacrifice, we began dinner with reading Psalm 100. The Pilgrim’s prayed this Psalm as they anchored the Mayflower at Cape Cod Bay. Though 1/2 died that first winter, and others survived for months on 5 kernels of corn, they set before them the idea that God was doing a great work among them and for those to follow. We began dinner with reading Psalm 100 in remembrance of the Pilgrim’s praying that same Psalm as they anchored the Mayflower at Cape Cod Bay.
3. Stones of Remembrance.
One year I purchased small glass jars (about 4 in tall) and tied a strand of raffia on each. I set these jars at each plate around the Thanksgiving table. Down the middle of the table I laid white rocks (about 1/2 inch size). You can find these at your local craft store.
We began dinner with reading Joshua 4:1-7.
“When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” 4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
As we ate dinner, we went around the table and shared what we were thankful for that year. Each time a person shared, they dropped a stone into their jar. We did this until our jars and hearts were full. Each person took their jar home as a remembrance of the mighty things God had done in our lives that year. My jar sat on the nightstand next to my bed for years as a reminder.
“Lastly (and which was not least) a great hope, & inward zeallthey had of laying some good foundation (or at least to make some way thereunto) for ye propagating & advancing the gospel of ye kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of ye world, yea, though they should be but even as stepping stones, unto others for ye performing of so great a work.” William Bradford
Enjoy your faith, family and freedom this Thanksgiving!:)