Most of us are familiar with the story of the first Thanksgiving in 1621. We are far less familiar with the period the Pilgrims called the “starving time.” Following the Thanksgiving celebration that we are familiar with, the Pilgrims continued to struggle with provisions. The general food rations continued to decline through the winter of 1622. The Pilgrims put much of their hope in the fall harvest of corn but it was a dismal failure.
In late 1622 a ship bound for England held the various items that the Pilgrims desperately needed and the captain of the ship cheated them terribly. However, this ship provided them the items they would need to trade with the Indians for food. Even with the additional food from the Indians, the food shortage was still severe. Rations continued to be decreased due to the extreme shortage of food.
At one point during 1623, rations were a few grains of corn each day. The Pilgrims were surviving on just five kernels of corn a day. As Spring came and the planting time for the corn crop, a boat was fitted with some fishing gear to catch fish for the colony. There was some success with fish and clams. The Pilgrims planted corn and hoped for a bountiful harvest.
Sadly, a severe drought struck the area and soon withered the corn crop. The Pilgrims held a prayer service to ask God for rain. The prayers were answered the next day in gentle showers that occurred off and on for two weeks. The corn revived and the crop spared. Later that same month another ship of colonists arrived with people and provisions. The harvest of 1623 was the best yet in Plymouth and gave hope that they would never face starvation again.
The tradition of giving five kernels of corn began with the celebration of Forefather’s Day on December 22, 1820. There were two main reasons for the five kernels. The first was to remember the sacrifice and the suffering of the Pilgrims. The second was to count their blessings.
Today, the five kernels of corn is a way to remember to the sacrifices of the past and to be thankful for our blessings. There are several traditions with this celebration. The modern celebration is to give thanks for one blessing with each kernel of corn. The more traditional method had a specific pattern.
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.
As you prepare for Thanksgiving, take a few moments to separate five kernels of corn for each person at the table. Take a few moments and give thanks for your blessings.