Thanksgiving: just three days ago my son snapped this photo of me as I took a break from cooking the traditional meal. But already this scene would look quite different should you see me taking a similar break now: stockings would dangle above my head, retro art tins would be propped along the hearth, and a colorfully adorned tree branch would reach toward my right shoulder. But before we leave our remembrances of Thanksgiving altogether, I'd invite you to sit here at the hearth with me for a moment of reflection on the holiday's origins.
Imagine you're sitting on a hard wooden bench in the meetinghouse, services are finishing as usual: with weekly community announcements. Little do you imagine that you are about to hear words that will affect the lives of people for hundreds of years to come when your Governor, William Bradford, walks to the front of the room in his red waistcoat and violet cloak (apparently it's a myth that they all wore dull grey, black and white under their big shiny buckles) to read the following pronouncement:
TO AL YE PILGRIMS:
Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of conscience; now, I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, ye 29, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.
William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Colony, 1623
Much of Psalm 35 could be lifted as a lament and a beseeching in this day and time, but I will--in honor of that first Thanksgiving thought--restrict my reflections to the joy and hope in this one verse and honor the heart of those who were the first to grace this continent with their blood, sweat and tears for the express purpose of freedom of worship:
I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people.