November 4, 2013

Will the real first Thanksgiving please stand up?

In a way I came full circle with Thanksgiving this year.  In May my husband and I visited Berkeley Plantation in Virginia, which claims to have been the site of the first Thanksgiving.

You can read my post about it here. Near the bank of the James River a small brick archway depicts the English settlers coming on shore and giving thanks for their safe arrival on December 4, 1619.

And last month, during our visit to Cape Cod, my husband and I visited the Pilgrim Memorial in Provincetown, located on the very tip of the peninsula. The travelers on board the Mayflower also lay claim to the "first Thanksgiving", celebrated in Plymouth in 1621.  As you might recall from one of my earlier posts (or most likely you already knew this piece of history, but I missed the memo) the Mayflower stopped first in Provincetown for several weeks before proceeding on to Plymouth Rock.

So we spent an interesting morning climbing the Pilgrim Monument and admiring the breathtaking view from the top.  Did I mention it was 252 feet straight up?  That's not a climb I would want to make every day!

View from the top looking down on all those stairs....(just in case you thought I was being overly dramatic again!)

Fortunately (for me) the interior of the monument has plaques going all the way, listing famous early villages. I saw Lexington, and Concord, and one that made me proud...Newbury, MA, where my ancestors settled just 12 short years after the Mayflower. Wessacucon was the Native American name for the waterfall on the Parker River, in the parish of Newbury.   

My husband accused me of taking photos of every single inscription on the way up in order to catch my breath on each landing, but I haughtily informed him that my readers, YOU, dear friends!, would surely be captivated by each and every name on each and every stone....okay, I admit it, I needed to catch my breath! But I did finally arrive at the top, and the climb was worth it.  Spread out before us was the harbor and beyond that the ocean.  It was beautiful.

And back on firm ground, the small Mayflower museum was worth a short visit.

So I'm not sure whether to give Berkeley Plantation the credit for the first Thanksgiving, or assign it to the settlers of Plymouth Plantation...Virginia or Massachusetts?  The Library of Congress has evidently compiled a Thanksgiving Timeline that states that the first "Thanksgiving" in what is now the United States took place in May, 1541 at Palo Duro Canyone in the Texas panhandle.  According the timeline, some 1,500 men led by Spanish explore Coronado participated in a Thanksgiving celebration after marching north from Mexico City in search of gold. 
In the end, it doesn't really matter who said thanks first, though, does it?  What matters is that gratitude was given for surviving treacherous seas and hardships on land, for food and shelter and life itself.  And in the four hundred years since those early settlers offered up their heartfelt thanks, the need for gratitude and appreciation of all of life's gifts hasn't change.  I guess that is another thing that has come full circle.  Here are a few verses from a lovely poem by Massachusetts poet Anne Porter to start our day with praise on our tongues and joy in our hearts.

A List of Praises
Give praise with psalms that tell the trees to sing,
Give praise with Gospel choirs in storefront churches,
Mad with the joy of the Sabbath,
Give praise with the babble of infants, who wake with the sun,
Give praise with children chanting their skip-rope rhymes,
A poetry not in books, a vagrant mischievous poetry
living wild on the Streets through generations of children.
Give praise with the skirling of seagulls
And the rattle and flap of sails
And gongs of buoys rocked by the sea-swell
Out in the shipping-lanes beyond the harbor.
Give praise with the humpback whales,
Huge in the ocean they sing to one another.
Give praise with water,
With storms of rain and thunder
And the small rains that sparkle as they dry,
And the faint floating ocean roar
That fills the seaside villages,
And the clear brooks that travel down the mountains
And with this poem, a leaf on the vast flood,
And with the angels in that other country.
Happy Monday!


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