Five little pilgrims on Thanksgiving day,
The first one said, “I’ll have cake if I may.”
The second one said, “I’ll have turkey, roasted,”
The third one said, “I’ll have chestnuts, toasted.”
The fourth one said, “I’ll have pumpkin pie.”
The fifth one said, “Oh, cranberries I spy!”
But before they had any turkey or dressing,
They all bowed their heads for a Thanksgiving blessing.
This is a fingerplay I did in past years with my kindergarten students. We’d make Pilgrim finger puppets and when it came time to bow their heads, we’d bend our fingers down to make them pray.
Of course, this is the cleaned-up cartoon version of what life was like for the Pilgrims. They didn’t really sit around basting the Butterball and polishing the buckles on their shoes, but my-oh-my how the pendulum has swung to the other side and some schools now refer to the Pilgrims as, “cruel Europeans.”
The trend in Thanksgiving-ology is to paint the Pilgrims as villains and totally eliminate their commitment to religious freedom. I don’t think my finger-play is entirely accurate, but neither is the Godless Pilgrim theory.
The Thanksgiving stories of my childhood may have been watered down to eliminate some of the gory details — which was also wrong, but in our current topsy-turvy world, we’ve shoved the facts the other way and are eliminating even more truth. The rise in homeschooling and private schools is soaring for many reasons, one of which is the reinterpretation of historical events by public school curriculum and the stripping of any reference to prayer or God.
A happy medium would be to tell the truth, but who can find it?
The fact is, the Pilgrims were longing for religious freedom and prayed to God and gave thanks for their survival. Massachusetts was a cold and dangerous place and if there was ever a time to drop to your knees and beg God for help, it was then. The fact they lived to see another day and witnessed new babies being born in a new world was nothing short of a miracle. Educators can try to reinterpret the Pilgrim’s motives and methods, but there’s no denying that prayer and a belief in God was definitely part of their grand historical adventure. That can’t be erased.
The side story, rarely taught, is that of Tisquantum – or “Squanto,” as we’ve come to know him. A fabulous children’s book, “Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving,” written by Eric Metaxas, is a great tale of a brave young man from the Patuxet tribe. It tells the story of how Squanto’s life mirrored the Biblical Joseph — the one with the coat of many colors.
Sold into slavery in Europe, Squanto was rescued by monks, then worked his way back home where he discovered his entire tribe had been wiped out by disease. Alone, he eventually met the settlers and taught them how to grow crops and hunt the area, which enabled them to survive. Like Joseph, he thought, “what man meant as evil, God used for good.”
Historical truthfulness magnifies our human errors, shortcomings and yes, even our evil sins. But truth also elevates human goodness, perseverance, achievement, and like it or not, reliance on God. That kind of truth will bring an honest Thanksgiving to our hearts.
This story first appeared in the Mobile Press Register.