When the Pilgrims celebrated their first Thanksgiving in 1620, they were quite specific as to what they could be thankful about. One, they were alive. There was some serious concern as to whether any of them would, in fact, survive. Since one half of them died in the first winter. That’s not just a statistic; the one half involved family and friends, people who shared the danger together crossing the Atlantic. I state this way, as there seems to have been some confusion as to where they were even going. The original destination was Virginia, the only known English settlement. They ended up in Massachusetts. Close associations typically form among people who share dangers together. One half of these associations now ended. But there were survivors, all thanks to the Native Americans in that region. That is the second reason they were grateful.
The Pilgrims were frightened of the local natives, so much so that they would bury their dead secretly at night. They did this with the hope that it would not be noticed by potential hostile people how many losses had been suffered, thus revealing how weak they now were. An observation like this could leave them vulnerable to an attack. What happened in fact startled them unimaginably. A Native, originally from Maine simply walked in one day and said, “Welcome Englishman!” He had been brought to England and later was able to return to Maine, only to find his tribe decimated by disease. Having the ability to speak English, he could communicate with the pilgrims. He was their first new friend. He later introduced them to a local Native, who in turn introduced them to the local Chief. This second friend did even more than that. He taught them to hunt and plant, taking into account the local terrain and weather. The Pilgrims were safe; they could eat; they could survive. Yes, they were grateful, and showed how much they were by inviting the local natives to their feast.
Basically they were grateful because they were alive due to their new friends. Close associations allowed for this. We too can be grateful for the same. We can appreciate the health we have, along with that of our families. And we can take the time this year to appreciate our own friends. It remains true that health is not only that of the body, but that also of the mind. Having friendships nourishes our psychological and spiritual health.
There remains one more reason to be grateful, something else that we have in common with the Pilgrims. They had the freedom to worship their God. They did not have that freedom in England. They did try to practice their religion in Holland, but felt that this country offered an immoral and unethical witness to their children. In a proper, more godly way. In turn, we could easily take the time as well to be thankful that we can worship freely and in peace. And mindful of the Pilgrims’ desire to support each other spiritually, which powerfully motivated them to make a truly dangerous journey, we can be thankful for the insight of how important it is to offer a good witness to others, especially our children. We can do more actually than be a good witness, we can strive to be an inspiration! Aren’t the Pilgrims that for us today? Happy Thanksgiving!
Peace, Fr. Walter