Carol and I were asked to give a British perspective to Thanksgiving Day! Carol was able to share some wonderful stories including some about a succession of American visitors to Cambridge (where we were pastor and wife) who invited us for 13 consecutive years to share their Thanksgiving Day in the UK. Missing their own families they included us and, on one memorable occasion, we had three Thanksgiving Day meals on ONE day because three families insisted we celebrate with them. Actually, you can have too much of a good thing!
I also reflected on harvest festival traditions in England. As a six-year old, living in a rural village in Oxfordshire, I shall never forget the first time I saw harvesting in the cornfield at the bottom of our garden. Before the advent of combine harvesters, sycthes were swinging and others were binding sheaves together in stooks like wigwams across the field. Around the field-edge children played as field mice scurried by.
Yet, more memorable still, was the Sunday morning in the little stone chapel (where my father was pastor). The church had turned into the harvest field. Sheaves of corn wrapped around the ends of the wooden pews and shrouded the pulpit. At the center was some huge plaited corn and a large flat bread in the shape of a corn sheaf. From every nook and cranny poked brightly colored apples, pears, plums, tomatoes and the rest. Arranged neatly were vegetables like marrows, cabbages and cauliflowers. Bunches of carrots hung from ledges. The smell was intoxicating. We sang hymns ever since etched in my sonic culture: 'Come ye thankful people come', 'We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land', 'All things bright and beautiful' and 'Now thank we all our God'. Like Christmas carols freighted with seasonal memories.
How close we were to the land and how vital harvest was to our food cycle. And how important to thank God for his faithfulness in creation. "The land will yield its harvest and God, our God, will bless us" (Ps. 67:6); "Faithfulness spring forth from the earth and righteousess looks down from heaven. THe Lord indeed will give what is good and our land will yield its harvest" (Ps 85: 11,12)'.
In agricultural England harvest celebrations have long roots. Pre-Christian celebrations involved riotous feasting at "Harvest Homes" when entire villages let rip as the harvest was gathered with a Queen of the Harvest chosen to lead the merrymaking. We can be sure the Pilgrim Father's disapproved 100% of such behavior. After all, they refused to allow Christmas to be celebrated as a holiday. Yet within the Christian tradition harvest thanks became well-established. By the sixteenth century Christians were celebrating "Lammas" - loaf mass- as the first corn was made into bread and used for communion.
Dare we let our imaginations run about the Pilgrim Fathers and how they responded to their harvests in 1621 and 1623? Just one more post is required!