Historical Research, Storytelling, Mayflower Pilgrims

It’s not even what I write about. Yes, I write historical fiction, but I’m usually fixated on either 1800’s America or 1200’s European-type fantasy world. Three years ago, when PTO President Pam contacted me because she saw on my website that I did storytelling, I agreed to storytell the Mayflower Pilgrim survival tale to her kindergarteners. Of course, I needed a costume, so bought the basic black shirt and long skirt, and then hand-sewed the white parts, just to see how long it may have taken a 1600’s woman to do the same. (Twenty-seven hours, BTW.) I’ve presented the Pilgrim bit to eighteen classes, and have enough information, with props, to keep 5-year-olds entertained for more than an hour, although it’s usually for either twenty- or thirty-minute time periods.

I show-and-tell props. Talk food. Stress the no-electricity bit. And I have four volunteers help me with a Pilgrim skit. Yep. All done in twenty minutes.

I also don’t keep the uglies back, like the fact that when they were starving that first winter, the Mayflower Pilgrims found sand mounds nearby with baskets of buried corn, and took them for themselves. (They later “paid” the Indians for it, but part of me cringes at that. What would you accept as pay back for someone taking your winter supply of food which you’d planted, weeded and watered for months, and then harvested and stored into baskets you’d made by hand?)

There’s also the fact that about half of the passengers and crew of the Mayflower died that first winter.

And what about twice-kidnapped Squanto, forced into European slavery, once escaped, once set free? Since he knew how to speak English from his years of captivity in England, he was the perfect translator for the lost Pilgrims who’d intended to land and live at the already established English colony of Jamestown. Squanto taught them how to plant corn the Indian way, and how to communicate with the people, how to survive.

After the successful harvest the following fall, when the Pilgrims invited their Indian friends for a meal to celebrate, they didn’t realize that ninety men would walk two days to come. Normally, just a handful of Indians checked in on the newcomers. The Thanksgiving Natives ended up, after their two-day walk to the invitation, having to build their own shelters, and even shoot four deer, to provide enough food for the feast. Oh, and there’s also the fact that the four adult English women did all the cooking.

BTW, John Bradford did not list turkey or potatoes in that first shared Thanksgiving at Plymouth, nor marshmallow-topped candied yams. We know they ate venison and corn, of course, as well as duck and shellfish, squash and beans.

What does/will your present Thanksgiving meal look like? Have you invited friends to eat with you who have helped you this past year? Are you thankful to God that you have survived for yet another season?

Wishing each of you food and friends and life at this Thanksgiving remembrance time.

American Thanksgiving Day – Meaning and Purpose

Today is the American National Day of Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Turkey Day. It is interesting to note that this is not a religious holiday, as one recognized in Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion.

It took Sara Hale several U.S. presidents before she at last found one (Lincoln) willing to set aside a day in the fall as a day of thanks to God for the harvest (food). Later another president (Roosevelt) moved the day for economic reasons – to extend the days of buying before Christmas, for Christmas is the season supporting many American capitalistic merchants throughout the rest of the year.

For nearly four hundred years, Americans considered the First Thanksgiving, the three-day harvest feast the survivors of the Mayflower held when they invited the people whose land they now lived on, held in November of 1621. There were fifty-three people from the ship who attended, and ninety dark-skinned men, who probably wore more clothing in cold November than the paintings give them credit. Only the four women who survived from the Mayflower ordeal did the cooking, along with a few small female daughters and some male servants. Naturally, the host men had shot several turkeys for the feast, but they hadn’t expected so many guests. So, naturally again, the Indians went out and hunted five deer to supplement the feast. Which makes me wonder why we don’t have venison on our Thanksgiving Day plates next to the turkey.

Days of thanksgivings were common in the summer and in the fall, not just in the New World, but through the centuries among any people who believed in a deity in whom to give thanks. Some Indians gave thanks to the animals they killed for giving their lives for their survival. But whether in the summer harvest or fall, the people always gave thanks to God.

I find it interesting how we Americans have changed the meaning of words in the past couple of years, or even past few decades. For example, bald used to mean white headed (e.g., the American bald eagle); gay used to mean happy; marriage used to be the relationship between a male and female to procreate; Thanksgiving used to be a time set aside to thank God. I realize I’m sounding all politically incorrect here, but I’m actually aiming towards historic word accuracy. Words we use today have changed in meaning. That’s a fact.

So my question is: what do you think of when you think Thanksgiving? Chance for a four-day weekend? A day off of work? (At least for schools and federal agencies, for it is a national holiday, after all.) Is Thanksgiving a time to put up with relatives? A time society makes you feel lonely because you have no family to be with, or no money to spend on a forced feast? A time to feel guilty that you don’t eat meat or fowl? A time to read your Bible and reflect on who God is and how he has helped you?

Again: Thanksgiving. What do you think of when you hear that national holiday word?