by Ana L. Palles
The nuns who taught history to that flood of immigrants seeking asylum in the 60’s in a little Catholic school tucked in the upper West side of New York City, had no idea the impact they were making. But decades later, here I sit once again reflecting on Thanksgiving and giving thanks with all my heart.
Perhaps it was the fact that New York and Massachusetts are so close that imagining the landscape and conditions those pilgrims encountered was not difficult. Deep forests, rocky shores, grey seas presented a daunting new world to immigrants who came with very little on ships whose size would surprise us in modern day.
The land was fertile and the native inhabitants, the Wanpanoag who were related to the Algonquin, were helpful and living in a structured society. Few realize the impact that tribes such as the Algonquin and Iroquois had on our governance model, but as would be the defining element of the frontier America, we blended.
Little did those settlers know that combination of the “Indian wheat” (maize), squashes, hickory nuts and wild turkeys that they stirred together with radishes, onions, carrots, spices, herbs and seeds brought over from their homeland, would come to symbolize the great melting pot.
It was a hard time, and yet, even as they finished the harvest and prepared to face a cold, grey New England winter, they were thankful for that day, that time. They were thankful.
“…Our corn [i.e. wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty…”
Letter from Edward Winslow, December 12, 1621, published in Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth , 1622
And from them, Americans established a tradition that has seeped through the ages and into the lives of many an immigrant. A national day of Thanksgiving, established during Abraham Lincoln’s presidential term, reminds us to stop and consider what is really important in our lives. Who do we love, what are we grateful for, what gifts do we enjoy subtly woven into the fabric of our day to day? When we stop and quiet our thoughts, forgetting ourselves for a few moments, we allow ourselves to celebrate the goodness of all that is, the blessings that come to us each and every day.
It’s been over 400 years since that first Thanksgiving. Physicists have been telling us that time may not be linear as Newton thought. In the spirit of hope and joy that this season always inspires in me, I send my thoughts backwards through time. To those pilgrims and native tribes who stopped in their winter preparations long enough to celebrate in gratitude for what they had at that very moment, I send my own thank you.
I open my eyes to see through the mist of years, and imagine myself walking amongst them. With a deep sense of respect, I stop to send them blessings, light and thank you for teaching us through example. And as I sit today and peel a bowl of apples, I will say thank you once again for the abundance of our individual harvests.