By Meadow Rue Merrill
Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays – and not just because of the pie. I love gathering with family and friends, sharing a bountiful meal and heading out in the crisp November air for a post-Thanksgiving walk, all long-held traditions. But for those who have experienced loss, Thanksgiving can be a raw reminder of what – or who – is missing around the table.
For encouragement, I turn to the Pilgrims, a Christian sect who set sail for another land when they no longer felt free to worship God on their own. Many myths and misconceptions about the Pilgrims abound, such as that they always wore black (they didn’t); that they were opposed to fun and games (they weren’t – unless on the Sabbath); and that they celebrated the harvest of 1621 with pie (which they couldn’t, because they lacked wheat and butter).
What the Pilgrims did have that first Thanksgiving was a Psalter, a collection of songs from the Psalms, which many people still turn to for strength and comfort today. If anyone needed strength and comfort, it was surely the Pilgrims, who had lost nearly half of their number to sickness over the previous first winter. Yet, despite their suffering and grief, the Pilgrims still found a reason to give thanks.
One Psalm which the Pilgrims likely sang that first Thanksgiving was the “Old Hundredth.” Now a tradition in my own family, we print the lyrics (which are easy to find online), roll them into a scroll and tie them with ribbons to place on each person’s plate at Thanksgiving. Then, before eating, we sing this Psalm to the tune of the “Doxology” as a reminder of God’s goodness, despite life’s difficulties.
The older I get, the more fragile I realize life is – and the more precious. I cannot imagine enduring what the Pilgrims did, but I am inspired by their faith, which remained unshaken despite their losses. And I am inspired by the treaty of peace this small band of settlers made with their new neighbors, the Wampanoag, without whom the settlers would have died.
The eventual destruction of the First Peoples by others who followed the Pilgrims is one of history’s greatest atrocities – a wrong for which we must still seek restitution today. But that two such different groups, both of which had endured great suffering, could sit and share a feast and games and songs to forge a bond of peace that lasted for more than fifty years gives me hope that maybe we can do the same.
This Thanksgiving, may we humbly acknowledge our faults and let go of our grievances. May we seek forgiveness from those we have wronged and thank God in spite of our losses. And, in the middle of all the fragility and uncertainty of life, may we gather around a table and raise our voices to celebrate with the Pilgrims,
“O enter then His gates with praise;
Approach with joy His courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless His Name always,
For it is seemly so do to.”
To share a version of the “Old Hundredth” with children this Thanksgiving, check out Merrill’s brand new book, The Thanksgiving Blessing, which includes the lyrics for what has been called the Pilgrim’s favorite Psalm, along with a story about why we can always give thanks, even when we have nothing else to give. Available as a picture-book for children ages 4-7 and as a board book for younger readers, it is the fifth book in the Lantern Hill Farm children’s picture-book series celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith. Or connect with the author at www.meadowrue.com