Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving
Pass the Peas
It is not very often that I get to see a pea. I may sometimes discover one hiding beneath my dining table, one that had somehow escaped my plate. It is more likely that where there is one, there will be many. And this was good news for the people who lived in the settlements of New England in the seventeenth century.
The pea of the field grows abundantly, and the early New England settlers enjoyed a great success with this crop. The peas were life giving, and perhaps even life saving. They were baked and they were boiled, and usually there were plenty leftover from the harvest, enough so that they were often stored dry so they could to be used during the long winter months often in the form of "pease porridge" which was served steaming hot, a perfect and important cold weather dish. And it was during those cold, harsh seasons that the simple pea was much appreciated.
Over the years, pease porridge was eventually replaced by the more well known New England baked beans, which were served along with a hard crusted rough brown bread. This crust was broken by hand into a suitable spoon like shape and used to scoop up those wonderful hearty beans. One can only guess if any of them were ever able to make their escape.
The baked beans notwithstanding, it is very possible that the abundant peas made their way to the tables of the New Englanders' early Thanksgiving celebrations. So please pass the peas.
In the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony celebrated a festival after a successful harvest, a harvest that may not have been quite so successful was it not for the help, during the growing season, of some of the local native americans, who joined them in their fall feast. Among those present was Massasoit, the leader or "sachem" of the Wampanoag tribe. He had been a great help to the Pilgrims during that first difficult year after their arrival on the ship called the Mayflower, and he is well remembered in the Plymouth area. Massasoit had five children - three sons and two daughters.
In 1630, a larger group of English settlers began arriving on the American continent north of Plymouth. They were the Puritans, and it was they who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This colony centered around a settlement that was known as Boston. The Puritans of Massachusetts observed days of thanksgiving that were appointed for special occasions like the one that was observed in February 1631 when provision ships arrived just in time to avert their starvation. The winters in the colony were quite harsh, just as they were in Plymouth. Annual thanksgiving celebrations would not begin to take place in the colony until later in the century, and the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth settlements remained separate colonies until very late in that century.
There were celebrations, days of thanksgiving being observed in other English and Spanish settlements in the new world during the same years, and perhaps even earlier, but it is the New England traditions, especially the one in Plymouth colony, from which we generally trace our modern Thanksgiving holiday
There is a story of long ago in which a crowd of people had gathered to listen to a man who they had been following because of his powers of healing, and his teachings concerning love and forgiveness. He had been known to heal the sick and cure the lame. He was also known for his ability to perform works of wonders. But often the people would come just to see and to listen.
The crowd that had gathered on that day was said to be particularlly large but the provisions, the food, that the man and his closest followers had brought with them were quite small. They still wished to share their food and feed the growing crowd but only a few loaves of bread and a few pieces of fish were at hand. So this man, this Jesus of Nazareth took this meager amount of food and began to break it into pieces, and as he did so he gave thanks for what he had. He then began to distribute the pieces amongst the people and into the crowd they went. Everyone ate and all were satisfied, and there were leftovers, which were collected in baskets, the number of pieces being many times more than the number that had gone into the crowd. Jesus was not just showing what he could do; he was teaching, teaching all who witnessed, and all of us, the power of giving, and the power of giving thanks.
Pass the Peace
On June 29, 1676, Massachusetts Bay Colony observed a day of solemn thanksgiving. This was the first such observance in over a year. No days of thanksgiving were appointed during this time because of a serious conflict due to a native uprising. The causes and events leading up to this war are of a different story, but it was a cruel conflict. The cruelty was waged from both sides. On August 17 of the same year, Plymouth Colony celebrated a day of thanksgiving, after learning that a week or so earlier, Philip, who also called himself King Philip had been caught and killed. Philip was the adopted English name of Metacom or Metacomet, the recognized leader of the native rebellion who also happened to be the second son of the great sachem, Massasoit. These days of thanksgiving were, in part, victory celebrations, but they were also solemn meals of thanksgiving. They were celebrations of the returning peace, and the hope of future peace, especially with their native neighbors. On November 9, 1676, Massachusetts Bay Colony had another day of thanksgiving, and it was around this time that these celebrations were beginning to be an annual event.
This tradition has made its way to us. We get together on Thanksgiving Day to enjoy the company of family and friends, to enjoy good food and each other. And whether or not we have peas, we will prbably have pies. We enjoy good conversation, and perhaps a bit of football as well. But above all, we get together to give thanks.
Thanksgiving is also a day of looking forward to the coming season of giving, that special season when we often hear the blessing and wishing of peace on earth. Peace begins with ourselves and with our actions towards those around us, a little kindness and understanding going a long way towards that end. And when we truly feel thankful for all the blessings we receive and give, a little bit of peace can expand and grow.
So grab that bowl of Peace Porridge, give thanks and pass it around, making sure that everyone takes a heaping helping, and by the time it makes its way back to you, you may find that there is more, very much more than what you began with.
And have a happy Thanksgiving.
Historical Notes and Sources
- Information regarding the diets - the peas and the beans, of the New England settlements, were obtained from David Hackett Fischer's ALBION'S SEED, Oxford University Press, 1989.
- Timelines regarding the settlements of Plymouth and Boston are from Alan Taylor's AMERICAN COLONIES, Viking Penguin, 2001
- For an in depth study of King Philip's War, see Jill Lepore's THE NAME OF WAR, Vintage Books, 1999
Any errors found in the historical information of the article are entirely my own.
The multiplication of the loaves can be found in the gospels of The New Testament:
- Matthew 14:15-21, and 15:32-38
- Mark 6:35-44 and, 8:1-9
- Luke 9:12-17
- John 6:6-13
This article contains my own views on these stories and are not intended to conflict or contradict any traditional views or any beliefs based on them.
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© 2014 Paul K Francis