Sunday, November 18, 2012

Faith, Fortitude, Freedom and Other Lessons of Thanksgiving

Yesterday, I saw a sign on the door of a local restaurant chain that said, “In celebration of Black Friday,...”  I don’t know why, but it shocked me.  Celebration of Black Friday?  Really?  Folks celebrate Black Friday?

No, thank you.  Not in our family.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  We are not opposed to a good bargain and, therefore, do not point fingers at anyone who heads out to find one on Black Friday.  We simply choose to avoid the chaos of shopping on that particular day ourselves and think that the day before Black Friday merits greater celebration.

Sandwiched between the candy highs of Halloween and the hoopla of the holidays for many – or between the festivities of All Saints Day and the joy of Christmas for others – Thanksgiving sometimes gets overlooked.  

Last Year's Cornucopia of Thanks

Not in our home.  We consider Thanksgiving a timely opportunity to help our children make connections between faith, fortitude and freedom, while also beginning to understand some of the sadder truths tied to the day and our responsibility to educate our children about them.

Thus, this year our Thanksgiving preparations began spontaneously when a friend lent us Monumental: In Search of America's National Treasure , a documentary that may be a bit “old” for our little ones, but which they were interested in nonetheless.  Watching it together acted as a catalyst for discussing our forefather’s faith and perseverance as well as for prompting a growing interest in how the Pilgrims lived.

Luke Running to go See "Faith"
The film also prompted our children to ask to go visit the Forefathers Monument in Plymouth, MA – a landmark that our family has been to in the past, and one that the kids have become more interested in after seeing it highlighted in Monumental as a “matrix of liberty”.  So, off we went last weekend to visit a giant memorial to faith, liberty, morality, education and law – all things that our family values and that our forefathers were said to have deemed important as well.

Luke and Nina Looking Up at "Liberty Man"

A few days after visiting the Forefathers Monument, the kids asked if they could go see “the knight” again – the figurine on one side of the monument that depicts the concept of “Liberty”  The children went on to say that “all the stuff on the monument makes us free”.  This thrilled me since their comments came during a discussion about how we each have free will and can choose to believe and do whatever we wish, but that we must also be ready to accept consequences for every choice we make.  For even if much of popularly taught Pilgrim/Thanksgiving history is a myth, the ideas of faith, fortitude and freedom, as well that of setting aside a day to give thanks and to honor fellowship between people, hold merit.  Furthermore, the fact that my children are beginning to examine what liberty means to them – and how faith can play into freedom – is something I appreciate.

Another thing I appreciate as we prepare for Thanksgiving day is books.  Our family has spent the past week reading picture book after picture book about the Pilgrims and the 1621 Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth.  With each book, we have paused to discuss character traits of different Pilgrims and the kindnesses that our land’s indigenous people offered to them. We have also noted how different life in 1620 was to life nowadays an how lucky we are to live with the conveniences, warmth and food that we do.

These discussions have had an impact on the kids.  In fact, the other night, after my voice tired of reading an entire pile of books, the children leaped up to embark in dramatic play, during which my five-year-old daughter built her own model of a Pilgrim house out of blankets, our kitchen table and a variety of other re-purposed items.  Then, she surprised me by giving me a tour in which she incorporated a wide variety of details from the various books we have been reading.  Likewise, today when we visited the Wampanoag Pavilion in Plymouth, my older son asked the interpreters there about what was true and what was not in what we have read.  As such, picture books have been a catalyst to learning and inquiry – a portal the past and a gateway to further education...

Nina, Jack and Luke Test Out a Wampanoag Canoe

By focusing most of our read-aloud times this week on historical fiction and one non-fiction chapter book, we have allowed our children to access some history as well as to better understand the ever-present truths of Gifts and Fruits.  In fact, with the model of people’s past fresh in our minds, our children had the best year to date with two other pre-Thanksgiving experiences we enjoy annually.  They exercised fortitude against the cold and self-control amidst the crowd as we spent two of our family Sabbath Days taking in traditional parades and accompanying ceremonies.

Last week, we took in the brief Veteran’s Day parade in our present hometown and then enjoyed the song, speeches and Americana of the ceremony that followed it.  I was delighted to see that the ceremony began and closed with prayer and was punctuated with songs of patriotism and faith.  For try as some may to do so, separating the freedom our nation knows and defends from the faith that many of its people hold true is not an easy task.  Experiencing the interconnectedness between the two is something I feel privileged to expose my children to.  

Watching the America's Hometown Thanksgiving Parade
We continued our foray into God and country this past weekend when we drove over to “America’s Hometown” to take in the Thanksgiving parade and festivities there: a pre-parade ceremony with singers and a marching band, an artillery salute, a USAF F-18 Fly-By, a visit to the kids’ tent, the viewing of an impressive Coast Guard rescue demo, and a visit to historical encampments filled our day with countless examples of how people, past and present, choose to persevere in promoting freedom, and, in some cases, faith.  We are lucky to live in an area where the spirit of patriotism and underlying faith precepts are so accessible.  Even through secular events, our family has been able to gently tap into historical and spiritual truths as we enjoy seasonal events.

ll-Boy, Luke Loves Checking Out Historical Guns
Today, we dove further into history by once again heading over to Plymouth to visit both the historical encampments and the Wampanoag Educational Pavilion.  The truths spoken of by the interpreters there are only beginning to sink into my children and I have yet to figure out how to proceed with reconciling the celebration of what Thanksgiving means to us with the sad historical truths of what it can mean to the Wampanoag people.  It is a sad fact that the ideals of our faith are not always lived out through the choices of people.  Thus, even as my children focus on faith, fortitude and freedom this week, I turn to the Spirit to guide me in how best to educate them...

Nina Enjoying Trying on a Piece of History

Undoubtedly, even though the true history of Thanksgiving is quite different than the popular perception of it – and despite the fact that modern times seem to mark Thanksgiving as the day before “shopping season” begins – I consider this time of year a worthy time for faith formation.  I am grateful for each opportunity our family has had to put some “holy” into our Thanksgiving holiday by exploring the faith-driven example of the 1620 Pilgrims, the continuing fortitude of men and women who fight for freedom, and the living examples the Spirit’s Fruits and Gifts at work all around us.  

Perseverance and Patience in Making Corn Flour
Wisdom.  Understanding.  Fortitude,  Knowledge.  Piety.  Charity.  Joy.  Peace.  Patience.  Benignity.  Goodness.  Longanimity.  Faith.  All of these can be found in our preparation and celebration of Thanksgiving.

This year, for us, history lessons, handwriting exercises about thankfulness, dramatic play about Pilgrims and indigenous people, a homeschool co-op Thanksgiving luncheon and countless more read alouds will culminate in a day to celebrate – Thanksgiving – when we will indulge in the blessings of family, food and fun as we offer prayers of thanksgiving to our Creator.

Learning About Corn Food with Thanks to the Indigenous People of Our Land
How will you and your children consciously celebrate this Thursday (or whatever day your country or culture sets aside to examine its past while offering thanks for what is and what has yet to come)?


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