Thanksgiving provides an opportunity for each and every one of us to do more than watch football, eat turkey and continue to argue over politics.
Instead, we can use the day to consider the holiday’s lessons at various times in this nation’s history and apply them to our lives now.
Begin with the voyage of the Mayflower in 1620, setting sail from England with more than 100 on board. It was a perilous 66-day journey across the northern Atlantic Ocean, which included getting blown off course some 500 miles.
They were headed to a new and strange land. Probably more than just a few were aware that they likely would never return to England. Certainly that had to be the thinking among 40 of the Pilgrims aboard, those who were members of a Puritan sect that had split from the Church of England.
They were immigrants, as are people we see today coming to our shores. They sought a place safe from war-torn strife and religious persecution or that simply promised a better way of life.
First landing at the tip of Cape Cod, the Mayflower took a month to eventually anchor at Plymouth, a much more suitable site for a settlement.
Still, for strangers in a strange land, life was filled with hardship. About half the colonists died that first year. But they persevered and continued to build their lives here.
They were able to do so with the help of Native Americans, including Samoset, an Abenaki, who brought Squanto, a Patuxet who spoke English and had traveled to England, to meet the Pilgrims. Squanto would serve as guide and interpreter between the colonists and Massasoit, the powerful leader of Wampanoag tribes.
No doubt there were other natives who looked upon the newcomers with suspicion or hostility. Yet, we should be thankful that values we embrace such as goodwill and friendship were what took root. That allowed life among the Pilgrims to improve enough that a successful harvest was worth celebrating and the newcomers were joined by Massasoit and some members of his tribe.
That event so many years ago was our first Thanksgiving. It is a story wrapped in the struggles of some and the willingness of others to reach out and lend a helping hand. We see that spirit today in actions such as Marshfield High School's annual Thanksgiving basket drive where students and faculty build baskets containing all the ingredients for a Thanksgiving meal, including a turkey with each basket.
Thanksgiving, too, is an opportunity that has been used to unite the nation. Abraham Lincoln understood this in the midst of the Civil War that had fractured the union. At the urging of Sarah Josepha Hale, an editor of Godey’s Lady Book, an influential publication of the day, and author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” Lincoln announced that the last Thursday of November would be marked by the nation and its citizens “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Lincoln said people should “... fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
These are words that should resonate with us today. Flaws and all, we have a lot to be thankful for, individually and as a country.
Let us use Thanksgiving to think of others and how we may come together for the betterment of a nation that has always been a symbol of liberty, hope, equality and justice for all.