Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving
Pass the Peas
It is just a pea, a humble pea. But the pea of the field grows abundantly, and in this way a simple spec of sustenance can be an a very large part of any diet. Robust and hearty, these peas were a big deal and an important part in the diets of the colonists of seventeenth century New England. These peas were baked and they were boiled, and despite their small stature, they were quite plentiful, enough so that they were often stored dry so they could to be used during those long winter months often in the form of "pease porridge" which was served steaming hot, a perfect cold weather dish. And it was during those cold 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.
The baked beans notwithstanding, it is very likely 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 without the help of some of the local native americans, who joined them in their 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. 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 the settlement that was called 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 prevent 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. The crowd was large but the provisions that the man and his closest followers had brought with them were small. They still wished to 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 small meal and, unlike what you may have seen in the movies, where a small amount of fish and bread was instantly and magically turned into a very large amount, he took the bread and broke it into pieces and then he gave thanks and began to pass those pieces around, and into the crowd they went. Everyone ate and was satisfied, and this simple meal produced baskets full of leftover pieces, many times over the size that it had started out as. Jesus was doing more than showing what he could do; he was teaching, teaching all who witnessed, and all of us, the power of giving and sharing, 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 was caught and killed. Philip was the adopted English name of Metacom or Metacomet, the recognized leader of the native rebellion, and he 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 annual event has made its way to us, and so we get together on Thanksgiving Day to enjoy the company of family and friends, to enjoy good food, and whether or not we have peas, we will most very likely 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, looking towards that coming season of giving, that 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.
Have a happy Thanksgiving.
Historical Notes and Sources
- For more on the culture and folkways of the early American colonies that were brought over from Britain with the settlers, see David Hackett Fischer's ALBION'S SEED, Oxford University Press, 1989.
- For an in depth study of King Philip's War, see Jill Lepore's THE NAME OF WAR, Vintage Books, 1999
- For a comprehensive history of the prerevolutionary Americas, see Alan Taylor's AMERICAN COLONIES, Viking Penguin, 2001
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