I'm going to be upfront. I haven't celebrated Thanksgiving since I last visited my family in 2003. Living in England, it's just another day. I do try my hardest to remember to call my mom, but this year it's fingers crossed that she's around between the time that I wander in after collecting the Imp from nursery and when I go to bed.
One of the things that I've been contemplating today, after speaking with one of my course mates and an instructor about Thanksgiving, is how much world history we Americans aren't taught when we were growing up. Since moving to England, and especially since moving to Lincolnshire in 2005, I have learned so much more about the 'back stories' to historical events in the United States, and it all finally makes sense in my head. I still couldn't remember most dates if my life depended on it, but I now feel like my knowledge of history has been greatly enhanced, and I'm now understanding the reasons behind some of the major historical events that I grew up with.
Take Thanksgiving for example. What do you remember? I remember being taught that the Pilgrims sailed on the Mayflower, landed on Plymouth Rock, and after a hard time the Indians shared their bounty. Yep. That's it...that's all I remember from school. I never thought to question where and why the Pilgrims actually left England. I was under the assumption that the were all from the same town...Plymouth, in Devonshire, on the southern coast of England. Moving up to Lincolnshire was quite an enlightenment. I have since found out that the Pilgrims were of a branch of Quakers called Separatists, who didn't get along well with the majority of the public, who were Church of England. Laws were being established demanding that everybody attend the national church. The original Separatist church was in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, which just outside of Doncaster. After several years of problems, the Pilgrim Fathers (as they're referred to over here) decided that it was time to leave. They couldn't get the paperwork that would allow them to leave the country, so they tried to sneak out by hiring a boat out of Boston, Lincolnshire (east coast). They were caught and arrested as they tried to board the boat. A year later, another attempt was made and successful, when they hired a Dutch merchant to take them from Immingham (just outside of Grimsby, North East Lincolnshire) to Leiden, Holland, which was successful, and they stayed there for twelve years. They then decided that they wanted to create their own colony in the Americas, bought a small ship called the Speedwell, and travelled to England to meet up with the Mayflower in Southampton. Leaving in August 1620, the Speedwell wasn't up to the journey, so they returned to Plymouth, piled all 102 people onto the Mayflower, and left again in September. After the rough journey, losing two people and gaining a baby, the Pilgrims finally dropped anchor in November. An advance party went ashore, but the majority of the colonists remained on the ship until December 23rd, when they departed the Mayflower to build Plymouth colony.
Here comes the reason for Thanksgiving. Because they had landed in December, the winter was difficult because they had not stored away crops. Forty people were lost. On 16 March 1621, an Indian leader approached them, greeting them in English that had been taught to him by English fishermen that wintered in the area. After signing a treaty with Samoset and another leader, Squanto, the Indians taught the Pilgrims how to farm the land. That autumn, the Indians were invited for a feast from the bounty of the harvests.
It really makes you think about the reasons behind some holidays. Yes, I still see Thanksgiving as a time to be thankful for what we have, and to spend time with family. But now I also see it as a time to celebrate religious freedom, through observing the trials and tribulations that the Pilgrims went through to arrive to America. Many of us of different faiths have continued to fight for what we believe, to find the place that is right for us. For the Pilgrim Fathers, that was the east coast America. Have you found your place?
Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow to all of my family and friends in the United States.