Thursday, November 23, 2006

24 November: Boreham on Thanksgiving

Turkey and Cranberry Sauce
This week the people of the United States observe their great national festival. Thanks-giving Day has its roots deeply set in that romantic and colourful enterprise known to history as the Voyage of the Mayflower. More than three hundred years have passed since the pilgrims, 102 in number, turned the prow of their frail craft towards a barren and inhospitable shore. With the religious scruples that primarily actuated those stern emigrants we are not now called to deal. The passage of time, the advancement of learning, and the growth of an ampler charity have long since removed the conditions that they found intolerable. In that respect we can well afford to let bygones be bygones. We may or may not sympathise with the austere conceptions and ideals that drove the pilgrims to quit their native land; it does not matter in the least. We can all look with pride on the audacity of their adventure and on the resolution with which, in the teeth of apparently insuperable obstacles, and in defiance of the most incredible hardships, they laid the foundations of national life on that wild New England shore.

In those days all eyes were being turned to the unknown West. The pilgrims listened with amazement to the tales that were being told of a vast continent across the seas only waiting to be peopled. They recognised the possibilities of the situation. If only they could survive the initial difficulties—the difficulties associated with a hazardous voyage and a precarious settlement on a solitary coast—they might establish a new order of society in which none of the disqualifications, discomforts, and disabilities under which they groaned should find a place. And thus, a century and a half before the Declaration of Independence they founded a civilisation on the principles of the Declaration of Independence; and three centuries before the Atlantic Charter they squarely based their new order on the firm foundation of the four freedoms.

A Voyage That Created a New Civilisation
It was on September 6, 1620, that the Mayflower, after one or two false starts, actually sailed frorn Plymouth. The little vessel, whose seaworthiness was extremely doubtful, lay at the anchorage at which Drake and Hawkins found their ships when, thirty-two years earlier, after finishing their famous game of bowls, they strolled down the quay and set out to meet the Armada. After tossing about for nine weeks at the mercy of the Atlantic waves, the pilgrim fathers landed on the barren coast of Massachusetts. Winter was setting in. The hardships that they endured can best be appreciated when we reflect that half the company died within the first few months in the country. They seldom knew at night where the morning's food was to come from. And, for fear of the Indians, they buried their dead secretly and in silence, cultivating the land above the graves and around them, lest the red men should discover how depleted the settlement was becoming.

In his stirring records of the Spanish conquests in Mexico and Peru, Prescott does his best to throw a glamour of romance over the behaviour of Cortes, Pizarro, and the other adventurers. But as he compares his heroes, impelled to ceaseless bloodshed by their insatiable lust for gold, with the selfless victory of the men of the Mayflower, he confesses that he feels half-ashamed of the dominating figures in his own story.

Festival of Larger Freedom and Closer Friendship
The annual commemoration of such an achievement is calculated to bind by still stronger ties the two great nations immediately concerned. Great Britain is proud of having produced the pilgrims; America is no less proud of finding such sturdy names as theirs on the opening pages of her national annals. As Lord Bryce points out in his history, the friendship between the mother and daughter nations is founded on justice, freedom, humanity, and peace. Of these lofty ideals the pilgrims are the most satisfying representatives. As Wordsworth said of them:

Well worthy to be magnified are they
Who, with sad hearts, of friends and country took
A last farewell, their loved abodes forsook,
And hallowed ground in which their fathers lay,
And all for freedom.

It puts iron into the blood to recall once a year, the behaviour of men who scorned comfort and wealth that they might multiply the world's liberties and build, out of the ruins of Yesterday, a happier Tomorrow.

It was at the end of their first year in the new land that the pilgrims—as many as were left of them—shot a dozen wild turkeys and held their Thanksgiving Feast. The epic grandeur of that inaugural festival consists in the circumstance that, with a retrospect so bitter and a prospect so bleak, the little band had, to all appearances, very little to be thankful for. Whilst the majority of their shipmates had, during the year, dropped into their secret graves, they themselves had contrived to survive the terrible ordeal and to lay the foundations of a new civilisation. It was on this slender cause for gratitude, that they dedicated the day as a day of gratitude and praise. And, forlorn as their situation may seem to us, they kept the feast with overflowing hearts. They looked back on some stirring days. There was the day on which the Mayflower sailed on her return voyage. Any man or woman who so desired could accompany her. Not one would go! There was the day on which they were reduced to combing the sands for something to eat. They found some shellfish, and Edward Winslow led them in giving thanks that they could "suck of the abundance of the seas and feast on treasures hid in the sand." There was the day on which they succeeded in convincing the Indians of their peaceable and friendy motives. Days such as these meant much to the pioneers. They gathered for their Thanksgiving Feast and, long afterwards, President George Washington and President Abraham Lincoln separately ordained that the occasion should be observed as a national memorial for ever.

F W Boreham

Image: A low carb., high thanksgiving meal!

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home