The First Thanksgiving


EARLY MONDAY MORNING I displayed a big poster shaped like a tree up in front of the classroom. The trunk of the tree was labeled “Thanksgiving Traditions.” I had set up the diver-down flag at my desk yesterday toward the end of class, letting my Band of Patriots know that we were going on a little time-travel trip before the school day. I had already let all my other students know that I would not be available that hour so we were all set to have a great adventure.

As I waited for my fabulous students to arrive for history class, I thought of my own past Thanksgiving holidays. Food and giving of thanks were part of our day, but visiting, laughter, and fun were also an important part. I hope that Jax, Raven, Moe, and Amelia also had cherished traditions to share.

Each branch of the tree had the name of one of my students on it. I would ask each of them to share their traditions on the leaves attached to their particular branch. They all arrived and I enthusiastically explained the activity, but they were a bit hesitant to volunteer their families' traditions, seeming unsure what to share.

“Before we eat our massive Thanksgiving dinner, my family sits around the table. One by one, each person tells what he or she is thankful for during that particular year,” Amelia explained. “I will have to think about how I wish to word this on one of my leaves.”

“My family watches football and eats leftover turkey during the game,” Moe proudly told everyone. He quickly got up from his desk and wrote football  onto one of his leaves.

"Thank you, Moe," I said after he sat back down. I sat on the edge of my desk, asking, "What about you, Jax and Raven?"

Jax walked to the front of the classroom and said, “My family plays games all afternoon and into the night.” He scribbled games onto his leaf. “We have board games and card games all over the family room. We play until it is time to take my uncle, aunt, and cousins to the airport on Friday afternoon. It's so much fun!"

Jax sat back down and the room became silent, waiting for Raven to share. She fidgeted in her seat, and looking as though she wished she had packed her invisible cloak this morning.

"Raven?" I said. "Would you like to share?"

“Well, it's kinda different than everyone else, but our entire family sings together while my aunt plays the piano,” Raven told us. "It may seem weird, but it's actually really fun."

“Sings?” the others asked in surprise.

“There is nothing wrong with it,” Moe quickly assured Raven. “We just never thought of singing on Thanksgiving Day.”

“Yes, we sing,” Raven said with a soft smile. “It is my favorite part of the holiday. Mom sings alto, I sing soprano, Dad sings bass, Grandma also sings alto, and Uncle Joe sings off-key at the top of his lungs. The little kids all sing with gusto, some on key and some between the keys. One year I asked my grandma why we have the tradition of singing. She told me that it began one Thanksgiving when she was a young girl and they were so poor that all they had to eat for dinner was potatoes. Everyone was really depressed that day until her mother said, ‘Let’s all sing.’ They had so much fun singing that day, it became a family tradition.”

“Wow,” Amelia exclaimed. “Your story gave me chill bumps all over!”

Raven grinned and shook her head. “It’s just a simple tradition,” she declared. "Nothing big."

“Yes, but it is so touching!” Amelia replied.

The Band of Patriots were on a roll of scribbling and describing their family Thanksgiving traditions to each other..

“We go shopping at four in the morning the day after Thanksgiving,” Amelia announced.

“We decorate for Christmas on that day,” shared Raven as she drew Christmas gifts on a leaf.

Moe pulled a football from his backpack and tossed it up and down. "Football is the best on Thanksgiving."

Jax stood in front of the class to get everyone's attention. When everyone quieted he asked, “I wonder how our traditions compare to the first Thanksgiving?”

“Well, this was the point of this little exercise. Shall we go for a visit and find out?” I said.

“Yes!” they all replied.

I pulled out the timepiece and set it to the correct time for the First Thanksgiving.

“I hope that William Bradford is ready for us,” Jax laughed, “because we are on our way!”


* * * *


Arriving in Plymouth in the autumn of 1621, we looked around at the changing beauty of the area. From this day and beyond, there is nothing more beautiful than leaf season in New England. The sun was warm, but there was a slight crisp in the air. Our clothing, as always, had transformed to pilgrim garb.

“I love the changing colors of the leaves!” Jax declared as he threw his head back in order to view the trees. As he did, his felt flipped off his head.

Moe picked it up. "I love this hat. I think I will wear it."

"Hey, that's my hat," Jax declared, swiping his hand at it and almost falling.

"Here," I said, taking my hat and placing it on Jax's head.

He felt the brim and inspected the color. "Ha! This one is better so there. You can keep that dirty ole brown hat. I have a nice black one now."

"Boys!" Raven and Amelia shouted.

Beginning our tour of Plymouth, we peeked around the small settlement. Farming, building, the streets were bustling with activity. A beautiful young lady, perhaps fourteen or fifteen, came shuffling by with a basket of corn.

"I can't . . . Get . . . This . . . Off," Jax muttered, trying to get the pilgrim ruff off from around his neck. With one hard pull, it came loose from his collar, but sent him flying toward the lady with the corn. In an instant, she and Jax were sprawled out in the street with corn everywhere.

Raven, Moe, and Amelia just stood in shock. I even had to concentrate to close my mouth in awe of the situation.

"Oh, my," the lady shrieked.

"I'm sorry miss," Jax apologized, standing. "Here. Hold on to this and I'll pull you up." He held out his torn ruff.

She took ahold of it and Jax jerked her off the ground.

"I'm sorry about that," he told her, smirking up at her.

"It's all right, ye little one," she responded, brushing herself off and then patting Jax on the head.

Jax couldn't look away from her. "It was a pleasure running into you though. I mean . . . Not literally running into you. Just that you–"

“We have come to visit William Bradford," I interjected, stepping in front of Jax. I looked behind me and asked the kids, "Can you please pick up this nice lady's corn from the street?"

"Oh, William. You're here to see him?" She asked sternly.

I cleared my throat. "Yes. I am sorry for this, but can you please tell us his whereabouts?”

She just stood there staring at me. The kids placed the basket of corn at her feet and filed around us. She gazed down at the corn and then back to me, before scanning the group.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," I said, putting my arms around the kids. "I am Professor Waldo Franklin and these are my students. Jax, Raven, Amelia, and Moe."

She knelt down and told them, "It's so good to meet ye. Ye boys are so handsome and strong and ye girls are so beautiful. My name is Mary." She tipped Jax's hat up so more of his face was exposed and smiled at him.

Jax's cheeks immediately turned bright red. I believe she just made his year with that.

The young lady stood and gave me another stern expression. "Governor Bradford is in the Common House dealing with some business.”

“Governor?” questioned Amelia. “But where is Governor Carver?”

“Governor Carver passed on in April,” replied Mary. “The year 1621 has been very difficult for all of us. During the winter, one-half of our community died. Governor John Carver survived the brutal winter, but in April, just days after the Mayflower sailed away, he was working in his field on a very hot day. He went inside his house complaining of his head hurting. He did not recover, and in a few days, he passed.”

“How awful!” exclaimed Amelia.

In fact, we were all in shock. Before each historical visit we tried to research the time period that we would visit, yet our little group still could not get over all of the deaths that had occurred in Plymouth.

“Yes, ’twas difficult, but we are surviving with God’s help. Governor Bradford is a wonderful man of the Book.”

“The Book?” Jax questioned me in a soft whisper.

“The Bible,” I whispered.

“Governor Bradford was appointed governor on April 21. Because he still hadn't completely recovered from his illness, the adults also chose Isaak Allerton to be his assistant. Governor Bradford is a great governor.”

Mary, the sternness gone from her gaze, directed me to the Common House. “I do not mean to forsake ye saints, but I must hurry with my work. There are not many ladies who can help. During our hard winter, only four of the ladies survived. The ladies have a lot to do today, so I must be a help to them. I am fourteen years old, so surely I can work as hard as an adult. I hope ye get to stay for the dinner.”

We thanked her and then walked the short distance to the Common House.

"Are we going to get to see her again?" Jax asked.

"Oooooh. I think someone's in love," Raven taunted.

Amelia and Moe began singing, "Jax and Mary sitting in a tree–"

"That's enough now, guys. We have to find William Bradford."

We arrived to the Common House without another incident and we were told at the door that he was busy, but they would make him aware of our presence. After a couple minutes, the doors busted open.

"Professor, you should have told them it was ye," the governor announced. "I wouldn't have kept ye waiting this long. How are ye, old friend?"

"I am well, governor."

"Quiet with the titles. We are friends . . . Professor." He chuckled loud.

Governor Bradford’s face was full and that look of mourning and gauntness he held for so long was finally gone. It was nice to see the Pilgrims looking better! The last time we visited with them, they were all frightfully thin.

 “They have chosen me to be governor. I request that ye lads and lasses uphold me in prayer. I am not only the governor of the saints, but of the strangers as well. I wish to show justice to all men, whether they be saint or stranger.”

“Things seem slightly better for Plymouth Plantation than they did during our last visit,” Moe observed.

“Yes, God has blessed us abundantly. The first part of the year was the hardest for all of us. Now we are faring better. We even celebrated a wedding in May,” he happily announced.

“A wedding? Who got married?” Amelia asked with excitement in her voice.

“Edward Winslow and Susanna White. They had both lost their spouses to death,” he answered. "But they have found love once again."

“Oh,” Amelia replied, seeming confused.

Changing the subject, the governor told us, “We have had a productive spring and summer. Now God has blessed us with a harvest.”

“Is Squanto still around to enjoy the harvest of the crop he helped plant?” Moe asked.

“Yes, Squanto is a Godsend. He not only helped us plant our crops but he also acts as a guide and interpreter for us when any of our men explore the area. Ye saints will be able to see Squanto today. Ye have chosen the proper day to visit for we are having a feast. We want to thank God for His blessings.”

“A feast?”Jax questioned with a grin as he and Moe rubbed their stomachs. He then whispered to Moe, "I wonder if Mary will be there?"

“Yes,” Governor Bradford laughed, “ye lads are like other lads your age; ye are always wanting to find ways to fill your bellies. Well, today we should be able to take care of your stomachs. I must go now to the area where the tables are set up because we have invited Chief Massasoit. I believe that many of the men in his tribe will come too. I must be present when they arrive. Please join me as we thank God for the bountiful harvest that He had given to us.”

We followed the governor to the feast area. When we saw the large amount of food that was on the tables, we were extremely happy for the Pilgrims.

Jax quickly took notice to the large number of fowls that had been prepared. “I'm a massive meat eater! That fowl looks delicious!” he declared.

Overhearing him, a small child smiled and said, “My father and three other men killed the fowls for the feast. Governor Bradford sent them to find some fowl, and they brought back enough for us to eat for several days!”

Chief Massasoit and his men arrived, bringing five deer as a gift to the Pilgrims.

“So a gift to the host was already a tradition, even in the 1600s,” Raven observed.

“Wow,” Moe comment as he counted the Indians. “Eighty-seven, eighty-eight, eighty-nine, ninety. There are more Indians than Pilgrims at this event! This is so cool!”

We all gathered around the tables, and Governor Bradford prayed. The prayer was very heartfelt, thanking God for the bountiful harvest that He had given them. After the prayer was over, everyone dug into the food together. Men, women, children, natives, everyone was at peace with everyone else. I couldn't stop the joy from overflowing at what a man William Bradford was to have made this happen.

“This fish is absolutely delicious,” declared Raven.

Amelia, devouring the wild turkey and greens, replied, "It's all so good."

"Oh, man," Jax said. "Have you tried this Indian corn. And the wild berries? Amazing!"

"Already had two ears!" the young lady from earlier, Mary, replied from across the table. She smiled at Jax.

Holy History, I wondered. Jax is a little Casanova.

When we were completely stuffed from all of the good food, I wondered if we should go. I didn’t want to be an intruder at this special event. However, the Plymouth people, saints and strangers alike, insisted that we stay for the games.

“Games?” Moe asked. “Did someone say games? I love games!”

“Yes, lad. If ye can run and jump, then ye will fair well,” a man told him.

“Cool!” Moe blurted out.

“Cool? Are ye ailing? Are ye too cool? Do ye need to lie in a cottage?” the man asked with concern.

“No,” Moe laughed. “Cool is just an expression. I say it when I like something."

“Oh, ye had me in the valley of confusion, lad!” the man chuckled.

He and Moe headed over to the game area, and Jax ran to catch up with them. Raven and Amelia turned and walked over to the women, where they asked if they could help.

I decided to be an observer of the games. The Pilgrims and Indians enjoyed running and jumping games. They also took turns showing off their shooting skills: the Indians shot with their bows and arrows while the Pilgrim men used their muskets. Squanto interpreted when necessary, but not much interpreting was needed for these games.

“What game is that?” Raven asked, coming over to the games.

“I’m not sure,” I responded. “It kind of looks like croquet. Where is Amelia?”

“Oh, she is playing with the children. You know how she loves children.” Raven grinned and shook her head.

The day grew later and later, and I decided that we must get back to school. Classes would be beginning soon. I gathered all four kids, and we thanked Governor Bradford for the kindness of all of the Pilgrims. He calmly, yet sincerely, thanked us for visiting and asked us to return again soon. "It was a pleasure sharing this blessed meal with ye."

Not wishing to disappear via the timepiece before the Pilgrims’ eyes, we headed behind the Common House and out of everyone's view.

“Surely ye are not leaving,” a lady tried to stop us. “Can ye not stay for the rest of the Thanksgiving celebration? We are going to celebrate for two more days!”

“It would be wonderful to stay and celebrate with you, but we must be on our way,” I kindly explained. "We have things we must attend to, but thank ye so very much for ye kindness."

“Fare thee well,” she called, dancing back to the festivities.

“God bless you,” we replied.

We huddled together and I set the timepiece for present day. We whisked forward through history and made it back to class.

“Mr. Franklin,” Amelia stated, looking at the poster on the board, “after having attended the first Thanksgiving feast in America, I feel that some of my family’s traditions are shallow.”

“Please explain why you feel that way,” I encouraged.

“Well, the Pilgrims had a feast at the end of the harvest season because they were truly thankful. My family goes about it in the opposite direction. We have a big feast and then have to remember to be thankful!” she told me with great animation.

“But is your family truly thankful?” I asked.

“Yes, we really mean it when we take time to verbally state that we are thankful for Christ’s blessings in our life,” she replied.

“Well, I don’t see anything so wrong with that,” I answered.

“Mr. Franklin, I do not think that Amelia’s family is going about it the wrong way, but I think I understand what she is trying to say,” Jax told me.

“And that is?” I asked.

“I think that the Pilgrims were simply thankful for the basics. They were thankful for life, health, food; all the blessings of God. America is now such a land of plenty; I think that we sometimes forget to be simply thankful. Am I making any sense?” Jax asked, outstretching his arms.

“You are right on track,” Moe responded. “I get what you are saying. I always try to be extra thankful to God at Thanksgiving time, but I am usually thanking him for petty items. ‘Thank you, God, for my new bike.’ Yes, I should be thankful for my bike, but I should not forget to thank Him for strength and health to ride the bike.”

“And maybe like Amelia was trying to point out,” Raven inserted, “we should come to the Lord with thanksgiving in our hearts and not wait until a special occasion occurs to remind us, ‘Oh, I need to remember to be thankful.’”

“Good point," Amelia agreed, smiling at Raven.

“Not to change the subject,” Moe interjected, “but I am so amazed by the unity of the Pilgrims and the Indians. That is not to say that everything was perfect. I have been researching this subject and found that they eventually built a fort, so I know that things were not always peaceful, especially with other tribes. Yet I still find it amazing that both sides were able to work things out and get along with each other.”

“Yes,” I said, agreeing with him. “They had about fifty years of peace. This speaks well of the Pilgrims and the Indians.”

“We could learn from the unity that they shared,” Amelia stated. “I have been feeling rather distant from our principal, Ms. Kermugin, and I find that I have trouble getting along with her.”

Nobody gets along with Ms. Kermugin,” Raven answered matter-of-factly.

“Please don’t suggest that we do anything warm and cozy with Ms. Kermugin,” Jax moaned, outstretching his arms again.

“Wait!” Amelia said, her blue eyes large with the intensity of her feelings. “Please hear me out! What if we invited her to be our exclusive visitor? What if we have a mini-Thanksgiving dinner here in class and invited only her? It would be like the Pilgrims inviting the Indians.”

The class went on discussing the prospects of inviting the one person whom they thought didn't like me–Principal Kermugin.

My mind wandered back to today’s visit to Plymouth. How would Governor William Bradford feel about our special effort to get along with our principal? As I thought of the Pilgrims and the Indians eating and playing games together, I realized that he would be very happy indeed.