It has been a number of years since the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag gathered to celebrate the colony’s first successful harvest. In fact, it has been 391 years as best we can tell. And while our modern celebrations are as much about Macy’s department store and Stovetop stuffing there are still dots on our landscape that take this one day of the year to truly give thanks for their homes, their crops, their families; their harvest.
Within ten months of landing on Plymouth Rock the Pilgrims had constructed seven houses, a common meeting room, and three storehouses for their harvested goods. After a long, hard winter in which a number of settlers died of either hypothermia, complications of frostbite, malnutrition, pneumonia or other illnesses due to unfavorable conditions and ill-equip, there was much to be thankful for.
Despite what some would like to think our ancestors were not vegans or foragers or even purveyors of tasty tofu. They were meat eaters and in 1621 eating meat meant hunting, killing, and dressing it yourself. Being settled in the bay area duck and waterfowl were more than likely the meat du jour. Roasted over an open fire by pilgrim women, the freshly plucked ducks were often heralded in these meals of thanksgiving. The children were involved in more tedious activities such as grinding corn and sifting oats. And there was no shortage of hot or tedious work as the first Thanksgiving was to ultimately last three days providing food for nearly 150 people; pilgrims and natives combined. Other foods may very well have included Concord grapes and other fall-hardy varieties as well as pastries and pies made with rich, juicy plums.
In looking back on this part of the thanksgiving story I am quickly reminded of how we give thanks today. Oftentimes we take our harvest for granted. We take little time to reflect on the farmers and ranchers who populate the groceries across the nation. Instead we focus on how many BOGO coupons we can cultivate and how we can get by with canned foods rather than food that takes time, passion, and a bit of luck to produce. We say grace and as we fold our hands, quickly lose sight of the battered hands that work the earth and pluck the spoils so that we may gather together with our cranberry sauce casseroles, our squash soufflé, and our “just like moms” apple pie. Even I am guilty of so quickly forgetting the effort it takes around my own small farm to raise and butcher a chicken for what seems like such a short meal.
But as our pilgrim forefathers sat down to a banquet of the Earth’s bounty they had little to thank more than the Wampanoag people and their leader, Massasoit. For like an old farmhand or a wise grandpa, Massasoit and his tribe taught the pilgrims to hunt deer, catch eel and grow corn. According to legend Massasoit even sent food donations to the pilgrims to help them survive that first winter. But history falls short of what is most important at this time of year.
We don’t know the words to the thanksgiving prayer that included (what history calls) an otherwise savage group of natives and their adopted family of rag-tag pilgrims. But I like to think it sounded something like “Thank you Father. For each man that gathers here today represents a family. He is both son and dad. As he was provided for so shall he provide. We are joined by our brothers who, while they may wear a different skin, are brothers no less. They have graciously shown us how to be stewards of this land and preserve the very gift of humanity. And as we enjoy the harvest; the very fruits of our labor, we ask that in this next year – like trees – you allow our roots to grow deeper and our limbs to grow stronger.”
May the season of harvest fall richly upon your family this year as it has on the Tiny r(E)volution.