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Thanksgiving and Giving Thanks

Paul has an enthusiasm for exploring the world of spiritual well being which he wishes to share in all that he writes.


Pass The Peas

It is not often that I chance to see a pea. There could be one hiding somewhere, one that perhaps escaped my plate. It would be more likely, however, that where there is one pea, there will be many. This was good news for the New England settlers in the seventeenth century.

The field pea grows abundantly, and it was with this humble crop, that these early settlers enjoyed a great success. These peas were life giving and, perhaps, lifesaving. They were baked and they were boiled, and there was usually plenty left over from the harvest, enough so that they could be stored dry to be used during the winter months often in the form of "pease porridge", served steaming hot, a perfect cold weather dish. And it was during these 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 often served with a hard crusted rough brown bread which was broken into pieces suitable for scooping. It is not very likely that any of them escaped anyone's plate. These beans notwithstanding, it is quite possible that those beautiful peas made their way to the early settlers' thanksgiving festival plates. So please pass the peas.


In the Autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony had a festival after a successful harvest, one that may not have been if not for the help from some local natives 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 following 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 centered around a city they called Boston. The Puritans observed days of thanksgiving that were appointed for special occasions like the one in February 1631 when provision ships arrived just in time to prevent starvation. Annual Thanksgiving festivals would not begin until later in the century, and the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth settlements remained separate colonies until very late in that century. There were thanksgiving celebrations in other English, and also Spanish, colonies on the American continent during these times and perhaps earlier, but it is from the New England traditions that we generally trace our own.


Giving Thanks

There is a story of long ago in which a large number of people had gathered to listen to a man with his message of love and forgiveness. He had been known to perform works of wonders like healing the sick and curing the lame, but many followed just to hear him speak. The man and his closest followers wished to feed those in the crowd, but the provisions they had with them were few, while the gathered people were many. Only a few loaves of bread and pieces of fish were at hand. So, this man, this Jesus of Nazareth, took the bread and broke it into pieces and as he did so he gave thanks for what he had, and along with the fish, he began to pass them to 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 in which, were many more than what went into the crowd. This was more than one of those works of wonders; this was Jesus teaching, showing us all the power of giving and the power of giving thanks.

Pass The Peace

On June 29, 1676, the people of the Massachusetts Bay Colony observed a solemn day of thanksgiving. It was the first such observance in over a year. No days of thanksgiving were appointed during that time because of a native uprising. The causes leading up to this war are of another story, but it was a cruel conflict waged from both sides. On August 17 of that same year, Plymouth Colony had their own day of thanksgiving after learning that Philip, who also called himself King Philip, had been caught and killed. Philip was the adopted English name for Metacom, better known as Metacomet, the recognized leader of the revolt, who also happened to be the second son of the great Massasoit. These feasts were in part victory celebrations, but also solemn meals of gratitude and hope, honoring the returning peace. On November 9, 1676, the Massachusetts Bay Colony observed another day of thanksgiving after the harvest, and it was around this time that these feasts were beginning to be an annual event. This tradition has made its way to us. We break bread and we give thanks. And whether or not we have peas, we will very probably have pies. We may even get a chance to pass around a football, and if not, at least watch some. Thanksgiving Day is also a time to assist those in need and to give of ourselves as much as we can, keeping in our thoughts all those who have little and those who are hurting.

Thanksgiving Day is also a day of looking forward to that special season of giving, the one in which we often hear wishes for peace on earth. Peace begins with us and those around us, then works its way outward. And when we are truly thankful, even the smallest amount of peace can expand and grow,

So, grab that bowl of Peace Porridge, the one filled with forgiveness and healing, the one filled with love. Pass it around so everyone can take a heaping helping, and when it makes its way back, you just may find that there is more, very much more, than what you began with.


Historical Sources

1. Fischer, David Hackett, ALBION'S SEED: Four British Folkways in America, Oxford University Press, 1989

2. Lepore, Jill, THE NAME OF WAR: King Philip's War and The Origins of American Identity, Vintage Books, 1999

3. Taylor, Alan, AMERICAN COLONIES: The Settling of North America, Viking Penguin, 2001

The author of this article alone is responsible for any historical inaccuracies.

Scriptural Notes

The multiplication of the loaves can be found in the Gospels of the New Testament:

  • Matthew14:15-21 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 regarding these passages and is not intended to contradict any other views or beliefs based on them.

© 2020 Paul K Francis

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