Copyright © 2002 by Kristin Madden
It's the season of changing colors; crisp air filled with the scent of wood smoke; and festivals offering wine, hot cider, and apple pie. At this time of equal day and night, we give thanks for the harvest that will sustain us through the dark winter months.
Origin of the first Thanksgiving
All Americans study the Pilgrims at Thanksgiving time in school. We trace our hands and color in the fingers to make turkeys. We make fake Pilgrim hats out of construction paper, and we learn about the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock. By the time we reach adulthood, few of us remember what that whole thing was really all about anyway.
The Pilgrims, or Puritans, were a sect of Christians known as Separatists or Brownists in England. The term "Pilgrims" was not associated with them until the late 1700s. They were an interesting people, following the teachings of a man named Robert Browne. Their belief was that the only true churches were formed by groups of likeminded people coming together by choice. When this happened, Separatists put together an organizing compact and elected their clergy. They believed they were the chosen people of God.
These Pilgrims wanted to be left alone, and were willing to leave other religions alone as well. They were seen as a radical sect in England and were persecuted for it. In search of tolerance and peace, they left England first for Holland. In 1605, many of these Pilgrims left Holland with almost 40 people. They boarded the Speedwell ship and met up with the Mayflower in England. In all, about 120 adventurous people set sail for the "New World." Unfortunately, their adventures consisted mainly of leaks in the Speedwell, and they had to return to England twice.
Finally, they left the Speedwell behind and set forth from Plymouth, an English port, in September 1605 with 102 people, including men, women, and children. This was far from an easy passage, and two people died. However, one child was born at sea and another was born before his parents set foot on land, so 102 disembarked in present-day Massachusetts.
The London Company had granted these people lands near the Hudson River, but winds blew them off course, and they took it as a sign from God that this was where they were to settle. Before establishing a settlement, the Mayflower Compact was drawn up and signed by forty-one men. The compact was a plan for government in their new home. The big rush to get this signed was because not all the settlers were Pilgrims, or Separatists. The Separatists feared trouble from the others because they were not on the land granted to them.
A suitable area was found on the site of a former native village. They moved the ship and all their belongings into Plymouth Harbor and established the Plymouth Colony. In the following spring, the Mayflower itself returned to England.
The hardships of this new land took its toll. Fifty-two people died that first winter, leaving very few to plant crops in the spring. Squanto and Samoset, two natives who had been captives on English ships, took pity on the Pilgrims and taught them how to survive in this land.
They showed the settlers to catch and use fish as fertilizer. They taught them what types of crops to plant with this fertilizer. They showed them how and what to hunt. They also introduced the Pilgrims to the great Wawrnegin, chief of the Wampanoag people. This chief was called Massasoit by the settlers and remained friendly to these newcomers in his lands throughout his life.
That first harvest was such a blessing that the governor of the colony invited the Wampanoag people to share in a three-day festival of thanksgiving. This first Thanksgiving took place between September 21 and November 9,1621. This is referred to as Harvest Home.
After 1621, Thanksgiving was occasionally celebrated, rarely on the same date. In the mid-1700s, Congress determined these dates, and they usually took place in December. President George Washington set a November date, beginning in 1789. However, this was not an official annual holiday until President Abraham Lincoln set its celebration as the last Thursday in November. The date was again changed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and finally placed on its modern date of the fourth Thursday in November by Congress in 1941.
Autumn is the season of changing colours. At this time of equal day and night, we give thanks for the harvest that will sustain us through the dark winter months. This book explores the history, legends and traditions of the season that is honoured the world over.
Create your own Mabon tradition with the help of the book's many recipes, magical workings, equinox rituals, and crafts for all ages.
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