The other day, my 8 year old came home from cub scouts with 5 kernels of corn and request that we start a new family tradition for Thanksgiving. You may have heard of it, but it was new for me. And I liked it.
I readily remember the story of the first thanksgiving and can even recall acting it out in the first grade. I had on a paper bonnet and sat with my fellow classmates, decked out with paper pilgrim hats. But, what I didn’t realize then, nor in the years that followed, was that that Thanksgiving “feast” did not symbolize years of plenty. On the contrary, after that first feast, the Pilgrims faced many years of hunger, want, and need.
Just after that first feast of 1621, the Pilgrims took an inventory of their harvest, only to discover that they were far short of their needed supply. Already scant rations would be cut in half. What’s worse, a ship came in carrying 35 more settlers, but no provisions. The rations were cut again.
By May, their rations were gone and the harvest was still months away. They went up the coast and begged for food. Captains of ships, appreciating their dire situation, graciously gave of their abundance. They were generous, but still only allowed for 1/4 pound of bread per person per day.
The harvest came. But, it was meager. Fortunately, a ship came through on its way to England. And, though they were cheated miserably by the Captain, they were sold goods they could trade with the Indians. With this, and some fishing, they survived, eagerly awaiting their harvest.
But again, their rations dwindled as they waited for the harvest to come; this time, down to a few kernels of corn per day. The Pilgrims waited and starved, and waited, relying solely on their Creator for the substance.
They needed the harvest of 1623, but a drought came and the corn began to wither. It was then, that they turned to their God and prayed, not once, not alone, but together for 9 hours. He listened and the rains came. A soft, gentle, constant rain fell for 2 weeks, lifting their spirits and the ears of corn that had drooped.
That harvest of corn of 1623 proved to be their best and became a time of hope for them that they would never pass through such a trying time of hunger.
At the Bi-Centennial of the Landing of the Pilgrims, the five kernels tradition began. In memory of the Pilgrims and the “starving time” they passed through in a determination to be free. Each kernel had a special meaning: The first kernel was thanks for the Autumn beauty. The second kernel was to give thanks for loving one another. The third piece of corn was in thankfulness for their family. The fourth was in thanks for friendship. The fifth and final kernel was in gratitude for the freedom that they found in America.
Since then, the tradition has lived on in many homes of America. On Thanksgiving day, place 5 kernels on each person’s plate, in memory of the Pilgrims and the sacrifices they faced and the blessings we enjoy. Then, have each person share with the others what their five “kernels” represent, the five blessings they are most grateful for that, like the corn did for the Pilgrims, give them hope in times of sorrow, strength in times of need, and faith in times of doubt.
May you remember all the bounteous blessings we enjoy this wonderful season.