Thanksgiving Feast 2020
I enjoy reading the story and history surrounding the Thanksgiving feast. The original 1621 feast of the English pilgrims of Plymouth and the Wampanoag Indians is rich with legends and symbols. Seven days of feasting with various types of food, such as turkey, potatoes and pumpkin pie, must have been quite an affair. The men folk hunted and fished as well as gathered crops from the land. Women were busy making food, and children busy with chores and playing. Speaking of food, did they have a big turkey like we do? For one thing, “turkey” at the time could mean wild turkey, geese, swan, or any other type of fowl. A story indicates that the early settlers’ Thanksgiving included deer meat (venison) as well. The feast lasted seven days but was reduced to three days as time went on. It was a late Fall event at which the settlers (mostly Pilgrims) celebrated after a successful harvest, in the land where they could practice religion without government interference.
Another interesting story surrounding the feast is that George Washington, our leader of the Revolutionary War and Father of our country, proclaimed a Thanksgiving in December 1777 as a victory celebration honoring the defeat of the British at Saratoga. The Battle of Saratoga was the climax of the campaign that gave a decisive victory to the Americans over to the British, accelerating the end the American Revolutionary War. British General Burgoyne, leading a large invasion army in the Champlain Valley in Canada, was surrounded by the American forces in upstate New York, nine miles south of Saratoga, New York. He was trapped by the American forces and eventually surrendered on October 17, 1777. This was a significant milestone in American history and of the Thanksgiving feast story.
So our Thanksgiving feast is a combination of many historic events, from Pilgrims’ religious expression of freedom, to giving thanks to God for a bumper crop and protection in this glorious new land, to celebrating a decisive victory of the Revolutionary War. It is important to note also that these early Thanksgivings were religious: people prayed and fasted before these feasts.
A lot has changed since the first Thanksgiving holiday in 1621—chiefly that it is no longer a religious affair and is now a civic holiday. The feast has moved away from its historic roots over time.
What does the feast mean for us this year, when family gatherings are restricted due to COVID-19? Our traditional huge feast with turkey and all the trimmings will have to be reduced.
Because of COVID 19 pandemic, we can celebrate the season in creative ways and make it great and community- building. First, we can return this Thanksgiving feast back to an occasion to give thanks to God for the bounty of the earth and protection from harm, just like the Pilgrims did.
Second, we can make this a feast by sharing our material resources with those in need and who are affected by COVID-19. For Christians, God mandated that we take care of the needy among us. Giving to our GUMC Shepherd’s Table or to the Johnson County Interchurch Food Pantry in Franklin are other ways to share during the pandemic.
After all, the Thanksgiving feast is more than the day before Black Friday shopping. It is more than a turkey in the oven. It is a time for feasting in an attitude of gratitude. The original Thanksgiving was celebrated with American Indians: this year we can reach out to our neighbors, immigrants, and refugees in need and in our midst.
Pastor In Suk Peebles
November 17, 2020