It's Thanksgiving! That fine American holiday where we gather, see the family, eat too much and watch football. Somewhere hanging on your aunt's door or mom's table will be picture of a Pilgrim dressed in black and white, likely with shiny black boots, a goofy hat and a big belt buckle. Or is that a puritan? And was he at Jamestown or Plymouth? And did he leave England or Holland? Most of us don't really know. I know I didn't.
In my efforts to learn, Wikipedia did not prove to be too helpful so I went old-school and broke out a dictionary! Visit the American Heritage Dictionary online, you'll see it defines a Puritan as "A member of a group of English Protestants who in the 16th and 17th centuries advocated strict religious discipline along with simplification of the ceremonies and creeds of the Church of England."
The Puritans, in short, were people who wanted to reform or purify their church. If you use the same dictionary to look up the word pilgrim (with a lower-case "p"), you'll see a different definition, a pilgrim is "A religious devotee who journeys to a shrine or sacred place, or one who embarks on a quest for something of great personal importance." We know pilgrims, they are in the news all the time. They are certainly akin to refugees, but just as certainly not quite the same.
In America, we've added some extra baggage to those two terms through the years. We now use the term Pilgrim (with a capital "P") to refer the small band of English people who came here in 1620 on a ship called the Mayflower and settled in Plymouth. When we are not confused, we use the term Puritan to refer to a larger group of English immigrants led by a guy named John Winthrop, who came here ten years later and started Massachusetts Bay Colony. (Most people only know these factoids if they grew up in the NE.)
These two groups were a lot alike...only different. Both groups of "p-people" were motivated by their religious convictions. Both wished to purify their church by applying the principles of the Protestant Reformation. The Pilgrims were "puritan" but not Puritans. The Puritans sought reformation of the Church of England to which they were still loyal. The Pilgrims had given up on reformation, and sought to start fresh as Separatists. Still confused? Me too.
What's useful for football-watching, turkey-eaters these days is that these terms and their respective nuances really anticipate the diverse and multi-cultural place that is the America we know today. The problem is, the Puritan in us hates to admit that other "pilgrims" have wandered into this new land and set up shop right next door to our efforts to be around people like us and GET AWAY from people like them!
The Mayflower group of Pilgrims who came in 1620 were well aware that another group of well-intentioned people from England had come a few years before (to Jamestown Virginia) and starved to death. Stories of their suffering and demise were well-circulated, so much so that this group was determined not to make the same mistake and show up grossly unprepared to survive in a harsh new world.
They were not content to let religious agreement be the only qualification that bought someone a ticket on the Mayflower, so setting aside their puritanical notions and siding with pragmatism, they recruited tradesmen with talents essential to building a new society. Accordingly they found carpenters, blacksmiths, cobblers etc Moreover, many of these tradesmen recruited from around London for their skills (not their orthodoxy) really did not care too much for religion at all. It's no wonder then that the arguing started not too long after arrival. The hyper-religious quickly got on the others nerves and the the more secular crowd irked their more religious neighbors by espousing what to them was a sacrilegious, deliberate mockery of religion. Sound familiar?
The Puritan firebrands who showed up 10 years later to the north to start the Massachusetts Bay Colony ended up being more successful than their Pilgrim neighbors. These late-comers basically took over. But all these Thanksgivings later it appears the secular crowd is finally winning the day in the USA. If you are like me, a religious person raised in a church family, it may well seem like the sky is falling and your pastor or priest may tell you we are stomping on the graves of those first p-people who came. The honest answer to that is, not really. America is a multi-cultural mishmash of culture and opinions because the very first boat load of English people who came on the Mayflower made trade-offs between Pilgrim and Puritan. The trade-offs continue today.
One thing we know about the first thanksgiving is that all these varied people and perspectives apparently stopped and ate together in celebration and recognition of the fact that their greater enemy, hunger, did not appear to have the upper hand as they faced that first daunting winter. They had a wider view of a common foe, the starvation that ended the puritanical pilgrimage of the Jamestown group would NOT win this time! The p-people, regardless of whether puritans, pilgrims or pragmatist all set aside their ideological differences and partied together over a hearty meal.
It's worth noting that there was one group of P-people who were not in attendance that day. It was the Patuxet people. Those were the native inhabitants of the area dubbed Plymouth by the English immigrants. Due to Small Pox and other European diseases, the Patuxet (a band of the more famous Wampanoag tribal confederation who showed up for the meal that day) had suffered 100% mortality by 1621.
Actually it was not quite 100%. One Patuxet member remained. His name was Squanto. After learning English as a slave in England for another group, he was the only living member of his people left alive to assist the strange white immigrant foreigners when they disembarked from the Mayflower. Whatever his motivations, Squanto set aside any resentment from being enslaved and devoted himself to helping the Pilgrims. Perhaps because he knew they were "little p" pilgrims, people on a journey in search of something sacred. He generously taught the English about the foods they needed to survive, including how best to cultivate varieties of the Three Sisters: beans, maize and squash.
So this Thanksgiving go grab a bite to eat. Not only with your relatives who show up annually in sweaters for small talk and tryptophan-induced naps on your couch. Those meals may well require a sacrificial attitude on your part, but they are the obligatory, expected meals of Thanksgiving. The true spirit of Thanksgiving may be better captured the week after the holiday when you grab lunch with that Tea Party separatist neighbor or your Bernie Sanders following office-mate on a pilgrimage to who knows where. We need a few more Squanto's, learning other's languages, planting seeds, being patient, feeding people. Even if you feel like the last survivor of your people, those type of meals may well save you. They may save others. They may save us all.
Mark Moore is co-founder and CEO of MANA Nutrition and author of the recent book, Nourish: A God Who Loves to Feed Us.