THANKSGIVING Day exists because people are aware that giving thanks is part of our salvation. Many states along the American East Coast had days of thanksgiving early in their history. Even Florida had a thanksgiving day 50 years before the Pilgrims landed, when a group of French Huguenots formed a settlement near what is now Jacksonville.
But it is the thanksgiving celebration that the Pilgrims held in 1621, in the midst of adversity, which began the American tradition. Giving thanks in those harsh days was thanksgiving indeed.
Only half the Pilgrims survived to attend that first Plymouth Thanksgiving. And much is owed to a friendly Wampanoag Indian who - heaven be praised - walked out of the woods and spoke to the settlers in English. This was Squanto, who had been captured by English fishermen and taken to London, but he must have seemed nothing less than a miracle to the survivors.
Squanto taught them how to plant corn and squash, which gave them an abundant harvest. He taught them where to fish and how to hunt local game. He showed how it was possible to survive in hostile land.
Gov. William Bradford knew which side his bread (if he had had bread) was buttered on (if he had had butter). Heathen though Squanto may be, he and his fellow Indians helped save the colony. So when Governor Bradford issued a proclamation of thanksgiving, he invited the Wampanoags to the feast.
There is a special meaning to that celebration which women, from then till now, will understand. The feasting on partridge, geese, and wild turkey, with innovative dishes made from squash and Indian corn, lasted for three days. Because of the depletion in ranks, it fell to only four women (helped by two teen-age girls) to provide for 50 Pilgrims and 90 Indians throughout the days of feasting.
There were prayers of thanksgiving said, but the thanks I would have most liked to hear was that given by the four Englishwomen as they wearily sought their beds after the task of serving and cleaning up was done. They, above all, perhaps understood the words of Jesus when he said, ``Whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.''