By Marc Kelley
Syndicated by: Montana News
Many of us recognize Thanksgiving, as the traditional starting point for the Holiday Season. Much like so many of the traditions we celebrate in this country, the subject of Thanksgiving and why we celebrate, has been largely lost to the sands of time. Many people choose to celebrate Thanksgiving by enjoying the loving fruits of labor, provided by our wives, husbands, Mothers, daughters and sons, which require a weeks worth of planning, followed by several hours in the kitchen preparing our favorite family dishes. The sights, the smells and the memories from days gone by, come rushing back into our brains, to be welcomed, like a visit from a lifelong friend.
If you are old enough to remember when they taught such things in school, you have heard the traditional story of the first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims and their Native American guests came together to celebrate the many reasons they had to be thankful. They were able to set aside the cultural differences, the racial differences and yes, even their political differences.
History tells us, the very first traditional, Thanksgiving celebration was held in the year 1621, following the Pilgrim's first years harvest in the New World. Apparently, recognizing just how much they had to be thankful for, the celebration is said to have lasted for three days. Almost everything we know about that first Thanksgiving celebration, can be traced back to the writings of Separatist, Edward Winslow. The name Edward Winslow may well be new to many of you; however, without the leadership of this early social scientist, the New England Colonies, may well not have survived, let alone prospered into what we now recognize as the United States. Winslow was selected by the original Plymouth Colony settlers, to speak for the group and when Massasoite, the leader of the Native Wampanoag people first visited the Plymouth settlement. It was Winslow, who was sent out to meet the Wampanoag leader and assess his intentions. The two leaders were able to communicate their desire for peace and for friendship; and as a result of this first meeting, the two men became good friends. Rather than seeing the new arrivals to his land as occupiers or as a threat, the Wampanoag leader saw human beings, in need of both resources and education. During their first winter in New England, when the supplies they brought with them from England proved to be inadequate to sustain the colony, it was Massasoite who shared his peoples supplies and saved the colony from certain death. While this friendship would undoubtedly benefit the Plymouth Colony, years later, when the Wampanoag leader fell ill, it would be his friend Winslow, who would nurse him back to health.
The kindness of so many others, was surly given without reservation; and, among these acts of kindness, we were taught, it was the last surviving member of the Patuxet People who himself, would be taken in by the the great leader Massasoite, when a series of plagues decimated the Patuxet people between 1614 and 1620. In a strange twist of fate, a young Patuxet, by the name of Tisquantum was captured by a band of European sailors, kidnapped and sold into slavery in Spain. Only after regaining his freedom, did our young friend, make his way back to England, where he learned to speak English. Volunteering to work as an interpreter, Tisquantum, signed on and joined the crew of a British Expedition, bound for Newfoundland. Once back in North America, Tisquantum, returned to his native land, only to find his people had been wiped out by a combination of the Smallpox virus and the bacterial infection, Leptospirosis. Alone and unable to survive, our young Native was taken in by Massasoite and the Wampanoag people. Because of his ability to speak English, Tisquantum was chosen as the liaison between the Wampanoag people and the Plymouth Colony. Once again, rather than embracing hate and blaming the Pilgrims for something they were not involved in or responsible for, our young friend offered his help and his knowledge. By teaching the Pilgrims how to grow corn, catch eels and preserve fish, he was instrumental in the colonies survival. As children, we were introduced to this man of kindness and we have come to know this lone survivor, as "Squanto."
Since that first Thanksgiving, many people have continued to celebrate the seasons harvest and give thanks for the many blessings in their lives. However, it would not be until 1863, that a Nationalist President, would proclaim, Thanksgiving to be a day of National celebration and honor. It would be in the midst of the US Civil War, when President Lincoln, would elevate the 4th Thursday in November to that of a national Holiday. In the darkest days of our country's history, we paused to reflect on the blessings of the season and to give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for his grace and mercy. During some of the bloodiest days of our nation, we found a way to come together, to join with each other, just as the Pilgrims and the people of the Wampanoag did in 1621. It is easy to find many things in this world in which we live, to be angry about. Hate is fomented because people look differently, practice a different religion, hold political ideology which differs from our own or their ancestors suffered by the hand of people in this country, some 200 years ago. So we hate, we blame, we refuse to accept responsibility for our own actions and we are anything, but thankful.
This weekend as you relax and enjoy the holiday, I hope you will think about the first Thanksgiving, the kindness shown by one stranger to another. How cultural differences were overcome, abuses and cruelty forgiven and remember to give thanks, for just how lucky we are to live in this country.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.