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A Very Happy, Puritanical Thanksgiving Everyone!

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Posted on : 10:17 AM | By : Nic | In : ,


I love posting on Thanksgiving, simply because of my passion for history, and I have a bit of time because Autumn is on her computer time and Annie is cleaning the bathtub.  Thanksgiving in Canada was last month, and while the food is the same, the icons are not.  There isn't the Macy's parade, and the Pilgrims with the buckled hats.  It's pretty much about the food.


I find it interesting what a lasting effect those Puritans had on America.  About half of Americans believe that they are descended from the handful of pilgrims on the Mayflower (whether or not they are is another question).  They were pretty hardy, even though half of them died the first winter, and they managed to make friends with the natives, who felt really sorry for them and brought enough to help make a meal of thanksgiving.  I think people tend to forget that America was basically founded by a group of heretics and religious extremists.  They were dissenting against the state religion, which was illegal to do, and fled to the Netherlands because of the persecution:
But after these things they could not long continue in any peaceable condition, but were hunted & persecuted on every side, so as their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison of these which now came upon them. For some were taken & clapt up in prison, others had their houses besett & watcht night and day, & hardly escaped their hands; and ye most were faine to flie & leave their howses & habitations, and the means of their livelehood. - William Bradford
After living in the Netherlands (isn't Amsterdam great for acceptance of everything) for quite a while, they realized their group would face extinction as their children became more and more Dutch.  Options for relocations included Guiana and Virginia in the New World, where there already were existing successful settlements.  They opted for Virginia, but not too close to the other settlements so that they wouldn't end up in the same situation again.  

Now I have to pause and say how interesting it is - if this were in the paper today, the headline would read, 'Extremist Cult Takes Members to Isolated Wilderness - Half Die!'

There originally were going to be two ships, but the first ship kept having leakage and other issues and finally they scrapped it and stuck with just the Mayflower.  It later turned out that the crew of the first ship was deliberately sabotaging the voyage because they simply didn't want to go.  When they got to Virginia the people were already hungry and immediately scavenged what they found from some existing structures (still being lived in by some scared natives) and probably would have starved right then if they hadn't.

Not all the pilgrims were Puritans.  But the Plymouth colony wanted to establish itself as a kind of utopian community, a lamp to the world of righteous and pure living.  It was an extremely strict life.  Like all early American communities, women were treated as the 'weaker vessels' and any independence by children was seen as a manifestation of sin.  The Bible served as the sole legal document of the community, and church attendance was mandatory - all social deviations or crimes were punished by the church rather than the civil law.  Despite that, women could make contracts and sit on juries, which was unheard of during that time.  

It is a little ironic that they inspired such a big and money-making holiday, since they believed in a communal economy and their religious beliefs banned holidays.  No Christmas, no games, no plays and theater, no spring maypoles.  A holiday that now centers around family love and tradition was founded by people who believed too much affection towards their children would make them failures as parents and any tradition not listed in the Bible was evil.

Sometimes I wonder how much Puritanism still exists, and it seems like quite a lot.  They had a huge influence on America, and their legacy will probably last for a few hundred more years.  They were strong, they were unorthodox, and they had so many rules they couldn't even follow them all themselves.  

You know what I'm thankful for?  That I can celebrate Thanksgiving without anyone telling me how to do it. :)  And despite my disrespect for the misguided beliefs of the Puritans, I certainly respect that they may be the most successful intentional community, EVER.  It didn't stay communal (they never do), but it certainly grew into something bigger.

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