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We are not fooled that everything was comfortable and convivial at that first Thanksgiving dinner in Massachusetts.
For one thing, a lot of the story has probably been embellished in legend through the years. And for another thing, no matter how big that table was, it couldn’t possibly have included all the pilgrims, Indians and attitudes that were present in what was to be that New England commonwealth.
But, like most legends and fairy tales, there is much to be learned from the story and serious lessons we would do well to follow today.
To begin with, we know that the Pilgrims -- the ones who sailed over from England -- must have been a sturdy bunch, to have risked the dangers of the sea, the cold, the departure from relatives and the uncertainty of surviving in a new land.
In other words, they weren’t comfort-seekers, and they weren’t lazy.
Once they arrived in the new land, they had to cut a lot of trees, hunt a lot of animals and pick a lot of berries just to survive.
That quality of courage and strength is admirable not only in our forefathers, but in individuals who are living today.
The Pilgrims also took their religion seriously. True, they apparently denied themselves pleasure and joy. And some of them evolved into witch hunters.
But they did ground their lives in their faiths. For good or for ill, they had some kind of moral compass.
Considering the alleged company at the table that night, it apparently included diners of different races. Back there in the 17th century, those early settlers were wise enough to make friends with the Indians.
Inasmuch as there are still walls of separation in society today -- churches, social groups -- the mutual acceptance of the two groups back then is a lesson we can all do well to live by today.
There are also stories of corn and fish -- stories of the Indians teaching the Pilgrims how to grow corn and to fertilize the seed bed with a fish before planting.
How refreshing that they understood that learning can take place with hands-on experiences and without achievement tests.
It appears that education back then was not the private purview the schools or certified individuals. Indians knew how to grow food and Pilgrims learned from them. Simple.
Finally, it is obvious that in one way or another, the Indians (who are rightly called the Native Americans) did not embark on a program to send away the new, undocumented arrivals.
The Indians may not have liked them, but, according to the story of the first Thanksgiving and the lessons that must be learned, the spirit of America is one of welcoming new residents in and getting along with them.
Those original diners at the Massachusetts table were a model for their descendents: They overcame racial barriers; they followed their religious convictions; they were physically sturdy; they had courage; they engaged in learning and teaching; and they accepted new friends.
The story may be idealized, but the lessons are ones we can learn from today.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner.