Almost four centuries have passed since the first Thanksgiving. On Tuesday (Nov. 22) night a gathering will recall the words and thoughts of Mayflower pilgrim leader William Bradford.
The event is part of a public Thanksgiving celebration at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto, which includes an incantation by a Cherokee warrior, ethnic desserts, multi-faith prayers, chants, dancing, music and an interfaith Thanksgiving service entitled, "Many Gifts, One Spirit of Generosity." Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders will be among the participants.
The centerpiece will be a community-building conversation inspired by Bradford's journal, "Of Plymouth Plantation." The book records the events of the first 30 years of the pilgrims' life in the New World and the colonists' reactions. The journal is considered the single-most important source of information about the pilgrims and Plymouth Colony, according to the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Mass.
Fifty-three Mayflower survivors took part in the first Thanksgiving, which celebrated the first summer and autumn of abundance following a harrowing and deadly first winter and spring in 1620/1621, according to Bradford's journal. Out of 102 immigrants, 49 had died by that autumn.
The journal is relevant to current times, said Rev. Laurie McHugh, First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto associate pastor, who is leading the Bradford journal program.
Three excerpts on Tuesday will include the religious persecution of the pilgrims, fear and stereotyping of the native people, the pilgrims' hardships during the first winter and help they received from the native people and the first Thanksgiving, when natives and pilgrims overcame their fear of each other.
McHugh said she was inspired to bring to light passages from the children's book "Pilgrim Courage," which is based on firsthand accounts of Bradford and Edward Winslow, a governor of the colony.
"We are living in times not that unlike the conditions which the pilgrims faced, in which many of us are more keenly aware that our survival as a society, and indeed as a species depends on our cooperation with others who may come from vastly different backgrounds and worldviews.
"And yet few of us are well-schooled in trusting others or engaging in deeper-than-surface-level conversation with people we deem 'other' or 'strangers,'" McHugh said.
"My hope for this evening is a chance to offer some practice in that deeper relationship/community building, in a safe and prayer-filled setting."
Covenant Presbyterian Rev. Margaret Boles said organizers wanted to create an event "to talk about the tone and political rhetoric pervading the country today that is damaging to the collective soul. We chose to make a break from this (holiday) tradition to address this now."
The celebration is open to everyone of any faith and will emphasize respect and thankfulness for diversity, caring for one another and mutual respect for all human beings, organizers said.
Participants can bring a dessert to share. The evening will include accepted donations of non-perishable items for the South Palo Alto Food Closet. Any financial donations will be divided between the Palo Alto Opportunity Center and Doctors Without Borders.
What: Interfaith Thanksgiving celebration
When: Tuesday, Nov. 22, 7:30 t0 9:30 p.m. Anyone wanting to sing in the community choir should arrive at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Covenant Presbyterian Church, 670 E. Meadow Dr., Palo Alto (adjacent to Mitchell Park)
Information: Rev. Dr. Margaret Boles, 650-494-1760, or Samina Sundas, 650-387-1994