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Thanksgiving is distinctly an American holiday. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. It celebrates neither a savage battle nor the fall of a great city. It does not mark the anniversary of a great conqueror or the birthday of a famous statesman.
The American Thanksgiving Day is the expression of a deep feeling of gratitude by our people for the rich productivity of the land, a memorial of the dangers and hardships through which we have safely passed, and a fitting recognition of all that God in His goodness had bestowed upon us.
In early New England, it was the custom at Thanksgiving time to place five kernels of corn at every plate as a reminder of those stern days in the first winter when the food of the Pilgrims was to depleted that only five kernels of corn were rationed to each individual at a time. The Pilgrim Fathers wanted their children to remember the sacrifice, sufferings, and hardships through which they had safely passed -- a fitting hardship that made possible the settlement of a free people in a free land.
They wanted to keep alive the memory of that sixty-three-day trip taken in the tiny Mayflower. They desired to keep alive the thought of that stern and rock-bound coast, its inhospitable welcome, and the first terrible winter which took such a toll of lives.
They did not want their descendants to forget that on that day in which their rations was reduced to five kernels of corn, only seven healthy colonists remained to nurse the sick, and that nearly half their members lay in the windswept graveyard on the hill. They did not want to forget that when the May flower sailed back to England in the spring, only the sailors were aboard.
The use of five kernels of corn placed by each plate was a fitting reminder of a heroic past. It may still serve as a useful means of recalling those great gifts for which we are grateful to God.
(On Thanksgiving Day, a family might begin the meal with five kernels of corn on each plate, as someone reds this short story. Those present might go around the table, each person offering one thing for which they are grateful in the past year.)
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