In the second grade, we carefully cut out and colored a Pilgrim. Mine was a boy and he was almost life size, close to the size of a toddler. I remember bearing down on my black crayon to make his garments black, the color of clothing Pilgrims are depicted wearing.
At that age, I already knew the story of the Pilgrims, how they sailed away from civilization to the New World for the sake of religious freedom. I'd learned how they came to that wild land unprepared and how they faced hardships they hadn't even imagined. About a hundred set sail from Amsterdam on that voyage but all were not the same. They were divided into two groups, the Separatists, who were the Pilgrims and the Strangers, who ventured to a new land.
They were originally bound for Virginia but landed in November or December1620 at Plymouth Rock after a journey of 66 days.
During the first few months, two or three people died each day.
In the first year, half of the Pilgrim and Strangers died. During that first spring, the English settlers - who had come by way of Holland - met the native Wampanoags who called the area home.
Tisquantum, remembered as Squanto, came to live with the settlers. He had been taken prisoner and had lived in England at one time so he spoke English. With his guidance, they learned to plant corn and other crops so that they could survive.
In the fall of 1621, the settlers and area Native Americans held a three day celebration of a good harvest that included feasting. Many years later, it became known as "the first Thanksgiving" but it hearkens back to an older event.
Harvest home celebrations were a tradition that began long before 1621.
In England, Harvest Home was an annual event that celebrated the crops and the food stored for the winter. Most cultures have a similar tradition including many of the Native American tribes.
The account of that first Thanksgiving are sparse and it's well established that what they ate wasn't what we consider a traditional feast with turkey and all the trimmings. It's more likely the meal featured corn, venison, geese, ducks, salt fish and vegetables. There probably wasn't any pumpkin pie although there may have been pumpkin in some form.
In the years since I made my Pilgrim boy, the rumbles about whether or not Americans should celebrate Thanksgiving have grown louder. Many states had a day of Thanksgiving each fall but it wasn't until Abraham Lincoln established it on the fourth Thursday of November that it became a specific date. It wasn't a national holiday until 1941.
For me, it remains a favorite holiday and a day of thanksgiving. For me, it's not about football or Black Friday shopping or what's playing at the movies. I do like to watch the Macy's Parade but the rest for me is little different than the way my grandparents celebrated the day, with food and thanksgiving.
-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy writes a weekly column, "A Writer's View", for The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She is also a published author and freelance writer.