Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving
Pass the Peas
It is not often that I chance to see a pea. There could be one hiding beneath my table, a pea that somehow had escaped my plate. Otherwise, it is likely that where there is one pea, 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 is a crop that grows abundantly, and with it, the early New England settlers enjoyed a great success. 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, usually served along with a hard crusted rough brown bread which was often broken by hand into a suitable spoon like shape and used to scoop up those hearty beans. It's not very likely that many of them escaped anyone's plate. The beans not withstanding, 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, one that may not have been quite so successful was it not for the help of some of the local natives, who then 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. 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 that day was said to be particularly large, but the provisions that the man and his closest followers had brought with them were quite small. They 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, 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 that had gone into the crowd. This was Jesus teaching, showing all who witnessed, and all of us, the power of giving, and 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 that time because of a serious conflict due to a native uprising. The causes and events leading up to this war are of another story, but it was a cruel conflict, cruelty 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, celebrations of the returning peace, and hope of future peace. 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 probably 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, you may find that there is more, very much more than what you began with.
- Fischer, David Hackett, ALBION'S SEED: Four British Folkways in America, Oxford University Press, 1989
- Lepore, Jill, THE NAME OF WAR: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity, Vintage Books, 1999
- Taylor, Alan, AMERICAN COLONIES: The Settling of North America, 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 with or contradict any traditional views or any beliefs based on them.
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© 2014 Paul K Francis