One of my favorite Thanksgiving legends is the story of the 5 kernels of corn.
As the story goes, the Pilgrims at Plymouth were struggling with poverty and were allocated only 5 kernels of corn per person for a day. Although there is no historical evidence that Bradford and Brewster would have allocated such a scant amount of grain, rather than go without, the legend has grown to tradition because it helps us to remember what we have and be grateful for it.
The Pilgrims landed on a shore that had been depopulated by disease and were not immune from the twin ravages of the plague and hunger. During the first year over 55% of the people who made landfall in Plymouth passed away.
The Pilgrims had left the strong nations of Europe for something more important than life itself: the freedom to publicly worship God according to their conscience and to train their children to do likewise.
During the course of the first year, the remnants of the tribe which had been devastated by disease were looking at this new settlement as a potential ally in their generational conflicts with other nearby tribes. Eventually they reached out to the Pilgrims using an English speaking captive from another tribe (Samoset) and a member of his confederation who had returned from slavery in Europe (Squanto). The Wampanoag Confederation sought a peace agreement and alliance which was honored by both sides for 50 years.
Learning techniques for farming in America, the Pilgrims were able to have a successful harvest and face the new year with joy and with adequate supplies. So they had a harvest celebration to give thanks and at the sound of guns being fired in celebration, their Wampanoag allies came running, fearing an attack.
The Pilgrims explained that they were celebrating a successful harvest and the tribal members nearby came and joined in.
Thus was the first Thanksgiving Celebration, although it did not become a regular celebration until much later, when Abraham Lincoln declared a celebration on the last Thursday of November during the heights of the Civil War.
Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful, and the legend of the kernels of corn helps us to remember to be grateful for the little things. Although the Pilgrims survived by finding and hunting food during that winter, the idea of being limited to an arbitrarily small amount of food is certainly in keeping with the idea of facing the death of every other person you know in order to faithfully pursue God in freedom of conscience.
So this Thanksgiving, like many before, I will count out 5 kernels of corn and use them to remember the joys that I have before me, even in the midst of lack.
What are your 5 thanks?