Thanksgiving is upon us and thoughts of Pilgrims, turkeys and the obligatory assortment of pies comes to mind for most of us. Thanksgiving was first proclaimed by President Washington in 1789; this holiday has come to ring in the season of buying, ushering in Black Friday for our consumer-driven society.
It seems the holiday season is becoming more centered around our obsession with material possessions than on the actual underlying foundation they were founded on.
Imagine for a moment what the reality was for those men and women who braved the North Atlantic in autumn. Embarking on September 6th from Plymouth, England, 102 passengers and around 30 crew members set sail for the unknown. After 66 days enduring treacherous seas, blistering winds and overcrowded spaces, they spotted land. The original plan was to land in newly-founded Virginia, however, history (and the winter storms) had a different idea. Seeing they were north of their target, the crew tried to adjust their landing site but rough seas nearly crippled their weary vessel, so the decision to take what God had given them was agreed to, and they settled on present-day Cape Cod.
On November 11th, they dropped anchor near what is now Provincetown. Before unloading, these “Saints” and “Strangers” decided to draft an agreement or compact, to set up some legal order among themselves in this uncharted and untamed land, the Mayflower Compact.
Over the course of their first year, the settlers braved a savage winter. Most of them remained aboard the cramped quarters of the Mayflower, their days filled with bitter winds and cold, many of them dying of exposure and diseases such as scurvy. Life was so harsh that only half of the travelers remained by the spring of 1621.
But providence was on their side as, miraculously, a native that spoke broken English greeted some of the settlers during one of their shore excursions. Squanto was an Abenaki Indian who was kidnapped by English and sold into slavery. He managed to escape and return via an exploratory mission only to find his entire tribe and family were wiped out by disease, most likely small pox. Incredibly, holding no ill-will, he readily assisted these Englishmen and women. Graciously taught them the tricks of farming corn in the sandy soil and which poisonous plants to avoid. His efforts were crucial to the survival of the few that remained.
As a gesture to forge continued goodwill and friendship with the Wampanoag Indians, Governor William Bradford ordered a Thanksgiving festival and invited them and their chief Massasoit. This first Thanksgiving festival was not just about gratitude to the Almighty that they survived but more so to thank their newly discovered friends for their willingness to help their fellowman, despite the differences of outward appearances, language and general outlook. These “savages,” as they were labeled, demonstrated more “Christian charity” to these strangers than those who set out as missionaries to “save” them. And all without a book to guide them.
Thanksgiving Day is about thanking those who have played a vital role in our own survival, not simply turkey dinners, football or gearing up for Black Friday shopping. On this coming day of thanks, I challenge each of us to think about that one person or group of people that have played a vital role in our success and survival, like that Abenaki Indian did for those weary Saints and Strangers. Who is the Squanto in your life?
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