Thanksgiving: Legacy & Responsibility
There are still wild places in the United States where we can stand and try to imagine what it was like on that first Thanksgiving in Plymouth. In 1621 the colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast to celebrate new beginnings and the bounty of the promised land.
A Land Like No Other
I love to stand at the headwaters of the Mississippi or the edge of the woods in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota. At those times, I can close my eyes and imagine the first Burton to arrive in the United States bearing one of the original land grants from the King of England. We all love the wild places we have protected in this great land. I pray we have the sense to continue to protect them from environmental damage.
It was a former slave who taught the pilgrims on the Mayflower how to cultivate corn. He helped them catch fish from the streams, avoid poisonous plants, and extract the sap from the Maple trees. Squanto was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe. A British Sea Captain kidnapped him and sold him into slavery before his escape to London. Eventually, he caught an exploratory vessel back to the North American continent. By then he’d learned the English language and was willing to help the new arrivals to what is now the United States of America.
The story of Squanto is a story I want you to remember. Never forget it was a former slave to our British predecessors who helped save those who survived their first winter on the Mayflower anchored along the shoreline. In these days of increased division among our people, we need to remember we shared this journey with those who gave their blood, sweat, and tears to make our existence possible. I find it difficult to accept that some citizens prefer to ignore how much they owe to the people they now refuse to include in their social circles.
An Indian Slave Gave Guidance
It would appear the early colonists also forgot how the Indian slave helped ensure a successful inroad into this new country for the white man. There are very few stories you can find about harmony between the white settlers and the Native Americans. You’ll rarely find it outside of the story of Squanto and that first Thanksgiving.
During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress declared one or more days of Thanksgiving each year. President George Washington made the very first Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789. It was a way to celebrate the country’s success in the War of Independence and the ratification of the Constitution.
My mother, her sister, and Grandma Burton spent years researching the Burton family. They traced the ancestral lines back to become a Daughter of the American Revolution (DAR), and then a Daughter of the American Colonists (DAC). Those of us who settled this land encourage its citizens to live by the highest standards to this day.
A Thanksgiving Date is Set
For two centuries, the colonists celebrated the harvest and the tradition of showing thankfulness in the individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until during the Civil War that Abraham Lincoln declared in 1863 that we celebrate Thanksgiving in November.
The author of the favorite childhood poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” Sarah Josepha Hale, launched a 36-year campaign to establish a national Thanksgiving holiday. She published editorials and sent letters to governors, politicians, and Presidents to declare a national day of celebration.
Those letters helped spur President Lincoln to put an end to the controversy and announce a National Thanksgiving Holiday. The Thanksgiving Holiday has survived all these years in spite of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s attempt to move the date during the Great Depression to spur retail sales.
For generations, Americans have recognized the need to show gratitude.
The thing is, I believe we can dig deeper. You and I need to understand that this journey isn’t taken alone. It includes far more people than we will ever get to know. We can’t possibly thank them all in person, but we can make an effort to be kinder to those not like ourselves in the spirit that their ancestors may have provided the very thing our ancestors needed to survive. Why is it so difficult to work together to ensure a healthy and cooperative nation?
Sharing Your Thanksgiving Story
I won’t tell you what to share with your children. You are the one who gets to choose whether they hear about life from a compassionate voice or a judgmental one.
We each have a history that includes both good and bad.
This is our heritage, not our children’s. They have a right to make their own determinations about what is good and bad in life.
We can protect them from the evils that surround us. But, we cannot conjure up an evil that never existed in the first place.
We alone can determine how deeply we imprint the souls of our children.
A Message of Hope
What we need to remember on this Thanksgiving Day is that our message needs to be one of hope.
A lesson in humanity, forgiveness, and understanding will enable our children to reach the pinnacle heights of their abilities.
What too many people have failed to understand is that by mandating our will on our children, we deny them of the very democracy we cherish. They no longer have the right to discover the joys and blessings that will fill their lives. Instead, they sink in the garbage we created in our personal journey.
Our distrust and hatred can only limit the potential these amazing young people hold for the future.
I hope you will choose the path of allowing your child to discover the world through untarnished eyes. Share with them the purity of hearing, the gentleness of touch, the freshness of the air we breathe, and the changing tastes of each season.
If you simply let them discover this great land all over again, I think you’ll be amazed at the beauty they’ll encounter from shore to shore.
It is, after all, up to them to forge their future. The children never were expected to relive your life. Please use the comments below to share one of your precious Thanksgiving memories!
Click on this link to the Thanksgiving Story for your Children, from the History Channel.