People start to show up at the door of the church to "get their turkey" with a spirit similar to the one that brings out the hordes to "get their ashes" or "get their palms." It cracks me up because turkey is actually very cheap as edible proteins go, and not without hazards and pitfalls when it comes to preparation. It's a symbolic thing, I know, a graced transaction that has more depth of meaning than economic need reveals.
In a thousand years, archaeologists are going to dig into our decaying yet somewhat-preserved belongings and our literature and our celluloid (film) and ascertain that we, as a culture, one day out of the year lose our minds and worship one of the dumbest and most useless animals on the planet.
"Before boarding the Mayflower, the Pilgrims were called 'Separatists.' The religious 'persecution' these Puritan Fathers of America came here to flee consisted largely of their wish to expunge the remnants of Catholicism in the established Church of England. Philip Lawler summed this up in his book,The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture" (Encounter Books, 2008) :
“ …the Puritans were campaigning against the lingering traces of Catholicism. Decades of brutal persecution – first under Henry VIII, then under Elizabeth I – had eliminated the Roman Church from English public life in the sixteenth century; the country’s few remaining faithful Catholics had been driven underground. For the Puritans, that was not enough … They were determined to erase any vestigial belief in the sacraments, any deference to an ecclesiastical hierarchy.” (The Faithful Departed, p. 22).
G.K. Chesterton once famously remarked, “In America, they have a feast to celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims. Here in England, we should have a feast to celebrate their departure.”
Despite their disdain for Catholicism, it is one of the great ironies of American history that the Mayflower’s Puritan Pilgrims owe their very survival in the New World – indirectly at least – to the Catholic Church.
In 1614, six years before the arrival of the Mayflower, Captain John Smith (the same man rescued by Pocahontas in another famous tale) led two vessels to the coast of Maine to barter for fish and furs. When Smith departed from the Maine shore, he left a lieutenant, Thomas Hunt, in command to load the smaller ship with dried fish.
Without consultation, Hunt sailed his ship south into what is now called Cape Cod Bay. Anchored off the coast of Patuxet (now Plymouth) in 1614 Hunt and his men invited two dozen native villagers, including Squanto (Tisquantum) aboard their ship. Once aboard, the Indians - as the Europeans came to call them were forced at musket point into the ship's hold where they were chained. Kidnapped from their village and families, Hunt too them on a six-week journey across the Atlantic.
Not all the captured Indians survived the voyage. Those who did survive, Squanto among them, were taken to Malaga off the coast of Spain to be sold as slaves.
Fortunately for Squanto – and, later for our pilgrims – Spain was a Catholic country. In 1537, Pope Paul III issued “Sublimis Dei,” a papal bull forbidding Catholic governments from enslaving or mistreating Indians from the Americas. The Pope declared that Indians are “true men” and could not lawfully be deprived of liberty. The papal document declared that any Spanish intervention in the lives of Indians had to be motivated by benefit to the Indians themselves, and not to the Spanish
As a result, the Catholic Church in Spain strongly opposed mistreatment of Indians and opposed bringing them to Europe against their will At Malaga, Thomas Hunt managed to sell several of his Indian captives before two Catholic priests intervened. The priests seized and rescued the unsold Indians, including Squanto who somehow convinced the Spanish speaking priests to return him home.
Go to Fr. MacRae's post to read about how Squanto (Tisquantum) found his way back to his Native soil to find his entire tribe dead, and, as the only Native American fluent both in their languages AND in English, convinced the Native leader, Massasoit, in what we now recognize as Plymouth, Massachusetts NOT to kill the Pilgrims, but rather, to allow him to speak for both.
Many years ago, a ship set off from Europe, seeking greener pastures, a land of promise. They landed off course in winter, but decided to remain and eke out their new existance, and indeed, there the people settled. Their code was basic; the Lord is your God, and those who do not work shalt not eat.
That winter, food was rationed, and these completely unprepared people were also completely unequipped to battle for survival. Were it not for the intervention of the Native peoples, they all would have perished. During their worst days, all they had to eat, PER DAY, was 5 kernels of corn. Many died that winter.
And yet, they still had to continue working for survival, even under those rations:
Some of them survived, and their new friends taught them how to plant corn and how to survive in this new land. When they had their first bountiful harvest, they celebrated. And it was not for only one day. NO! They celebrated as in Biblcal times...for a week! But they remembered their previous winter, and so to begin, they were each rationed 5 grains of corn, as a reminder. It was a solemn moment. There they were, before a repast fit for Kings and their Courts, and yet, in humility, they remembered their moments of the most abject poverty. They remembered the lives lost, the terrible journey, and the friendship and hard work that enabled their survival.
They knew they owed their very lives to God. And only 5 grains of corn was enough to remind them of their humble positions before their Maker.
Deuteronomy 8: 1-20
1 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. 2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.
6 Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him. 7 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.
10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.
19 If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. 20 Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.
DO NOT take the Lord's mercy for granted. Do not make your "Thanksgiving" a moment of self-praise about what YOU have accomplished and built. Remember that the Lord, your God has given you EVERYTHING that you have, to the very air in your lungs. As you sit around the table before a sumptuous repast, remember our forefathers and what they suffered, remember your own moments, if you had them, of absolute poverty, and remember that all you now have is a gift. Invite God into your celebration, and if it so helps, as you offer your Thanksgiving prayers and blessings, set before you 5 grains of corn. And Remember whom you serve, and who it is who holds you in existance...and Praise Him.