Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pilgrim fathers and today pilgrims: preparing for your own Thanksgiving in the USA

It is that time of the year when knives are sharpened and plump feathery beasts are served on elaborated tables as guests of honor. If you are in the USA, you mustn't miss this national celebration: Thanksgiving. The American tradition wants to commemorate the first harsh winter of the Pilgrim Fathers, who supposedly celebrated with a banquet the abundance of this rich land and thanked the Lord (I guess) and their kind neighbors (the original inhabitants) for the protection, help and generosity given to them. In fact, they had a lot to be thankful for.
When we went to see Plymouth plantation and the Mayflower, visitors get a little taste of what life could have been like when the first pilgrims and puritans set foot on the new continent. Seeing what they had to go through, I thought that if it had been up to me, there would be nothing to celebrate today! I would have turned the boat around. Their desperation had been strong enough to make them put up with all the hardships they were about to embark. Religious persecution in England must have been a far worse demon than a bleak stormy ocean, unfriendly savages and overall a life of deprivations (but after all, they were puritans, so I believe they didn't expect to find Las Vegas on the other side of the world). 
But let's go back to that winter in 1620. The first immigrants had made it safe and sound on a wooden ship after a month sailing from England to Cape Cod, which is a miracle by itself. Close your eyes and try to imagine sharing a common room/deck with more than a hundred people for more than a month with almost no food left!? They must have been extremely disciplined, no doubt about that. I am saying it only because I can imagine myself getting cranky, complaining about the food, lack of privacy, seasickness, noisy and smelly travel companions...probably, after the second day of navigation they would have thrown me overboard!! As pilgrims of the 21st century, we can hardly take a flight of 9 hours without complaining, can you imagine a voyage longer than a month in ghastly weather conditions?! 
I swallow hard and proceed, I am thankful I can travel by plane, even though I am not a fan. We, modern pilgrims, also have a share of issues when coming to the USA; from less than relaxing flights, which can drain you out if you are a nervous type by nature (sometimes I feel like getting on my knees and kiss the ground under my feet), to even far less friendly airport security checks. My first time in the USA was greeted by a brutal "unwelcome to the USA" in Denver. I had no idea what racism and profiling was, but I learnt all this all too quickly in the longest and most extenuating 3 hours or more I was held for questioning by a nasty C.B.P. officer-woman. Hard to believe that a high school student would spend a summer abroad to study the language! Anyhow, after that first shocking experience, I have traveled more and met definitely nicer and friendlier C.B.P. officers. At JKF I met a really nice border patrol officer and we both had a hysterical laugh. I was asked to take my sneakers off. The only problem was that the day before there had been a power cut on all the East coast, nothing was working and passengers had spent the night sleeping on the floors. It was August, very hot and humid. With a smile on my face and not at all embarrassed, I asked him if he was sure, because my shoes were a bacteriological bomb judging by their smell! He cracked down laughing and I was glad: some people have a sense of humor and I love laughing! 
However, back to our story of almost four century ago: landing successfully on the American shore was only a brief moment of glory for those brave souls. There was no hotel or already set up lodgings to welcome them with a warm shower, warm food, proper clothes and nice clean sheet to sleep in. They were welcomed by a cold winter and the wilderness of New England. Not surprisingly, half of the people who undertook the first voyage died in the first winter in Plymouth, MA. They had to be self reliant in everything and rely on each other. The housings they built were unfit for that climate, as well as the seeds they had brought from England which were almost useless to cultivate in that environment. They were doomed if it hadn't been for the intervention of some friendly Natives, the same ones the puritans called "savages", the irony here is the pot calling the kettle black. In fact, the puritans had a weird way to show their gratitude.
It is very likely that some indigenous people were moved out of pity or human kindness towards the helpless hoard and their help was crucial for the survival of the Europeans through the first winter. However, as history teaches, the relations must have been chaotic from the very beginning to say the least. Despite the help received, the puritans didn't trust their neighbors and soon enough built fences and towers around their settlement. On the other side, the indigenous people felt a danger coming from those newcomers who were spreading and taking over their land. And their fears came true. Not even twenty years later several tribes like the Pequot, who were originally located in the south east corner of Connecticut, had been declared "banned", the few survivors left were sold as slaves. The pilgrims had indeed a weird way to show their gratitude. Prosperity was finally coming to them and nothing was going to stop them.
But now back to us, and to the turkey awaiting! Being away from home will make you feel a bit homesick as this festivity is typically celebrated with family and friends, so don't pass on invitations of friends to stick together for this holiday. Enjoy their company and taste the typical American cuisine: cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, stuffed turkey, gravy, pumpkin pie and pecan pie. Let's get in the mood and think: what are you thankful for? 

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