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Thanksgiving Part I: Of Plymouth Plantation

The Eucharist is our ultimate thanksgiving to our Creator. It is the only worthy prayer of thanks because Our Lord Himself is praying with us. On the human level, His creatures have established autumn harvest thanksgiving celebrations dating back to pre-Christian times. In the United States, the term "thanksgiving" evokes the very special celebration of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation in 1621 which was declared a public holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. There had been earlier Catholic thanksgivings celebrated by Spanish explorers. The Plymouth plantation event was chosen as symbolic for all colonial thanksgiving celebrations because it was felt to mark the beginning of the United States as a country and a culture. Thanksgiving is probably the most important family holiday in this country. It is the one day of the year when families come together even if it is only to feast and watch football.

By way of introduction, may I suggest a fun and appropriate literary activity for Thanksgiving: collecting table blessings from literature?

Here is our favorite from The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. It is delivered somewhat awkwardly by Pa Forrester, patriarch of a rough tribe of bootleggers. He is obviously not used to give thanks but feels compelled to do so for a visitor: " Oh, Lord, once more Thou hast see fit to bless our sinnin' souls and bellies with good rations. Amen." The Yearling is a wonderful book for young adults, a beautiful, sad and hopeful coming of age story interspersed with great humor like the prayer above.

Here are some favorite books about the historical Plymouth Plantation Thanksgiving:

Let's start with a book for the youngest family members: My First Thanksgiving is a boardbook by Tomie Depaola whose sumptous renderings of traditional feast day celebrations and stories show his love for God and his people.

Caldecott Winner The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgiesh, illustrated by Helen Sewell, for ages five to eight, is a classic picture book about Thanksgiving. It has taught all our eight children about this event. Grandma still owns a long thanksgiving banner drawn by one granddaughter, a copy of the colorful double page spread of the thanksgiving meal from this book.

The Story of the Pilgrims by Katharine Ross, illustrated by Carolyn Croll, is a picture book for ages three to seven. Like The Thanksgiving Story, it retells the history of the Pilgrims in simple words.Written in 1995, it still uses original pilgrim language. Indians are called "savages". This is historically rather than politically correct. You could have a discussion with your kids: Why did the pilgrims call the Indians "savages".

We love Margaret Pumphrey's Pilgrim Stories by Margaret Pumphrey and Elvajean Hall. "In the early 1900s, Pumphrey, a primary school teacher, compiled stories from a number of original sources, including William Bradford's diary Of Plimouth Plantation and Edward Winslow's journal Good Newes from New England--stories of faith, courage, and joy that became the seeds of a great nation. " (from the amazon description).

The first edition of Pilgrim Stories was published in 1912. Our edition is from 1964. There is a 2006 edition which I heard was heavily edited. This book and its sequel by Elvajean Hall Pilgrim Neighbors: More True Pilgrim Stories are wonderful true stories for ages five and up drawing on primary sources which are listed in the back.

Peter and the Pilgrims by Louise A. Vernon tells the exciting fictional story of an orphaned boy who sails with the pilgrims on the Mayflower. Discuss the beliefs of the separatists with your children and tell them that Catholics were also persecuted in England at the time.

Of Plymouth Plantation, the journal of Governor William Bradford, is an important primary source for the history of the Pilgrims. This edition in very readable modern English is a must read history book for young adults.

Thanksgiving: Feast and Festival compiled by Mildred Corell Luckhardt is a 1966 compilation of stories, poems, essays and factual accounts of thanksgiving traditions throughout the ages. The essay "Some North American Thanksgivings" by Mildred Corell Luckhardt talks about American thanksgivings other than the Plymouth Plantation event. She does not include the two Spanish Catholic thanksgivings in Florida, 1965, and in El Paso , Texas, 1598. However, she mentions the first Pan -American thanksgiving celebration held in 1909 at St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Washington D.C.(page 145).

Please visit again for the second part of this Thanksgiving post which will include a homeschool unit study plan.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

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