Thanksgiving – let’s empathize and appreciate

Dr. Weeks’ Comment:  I love celebrating Thanksgiving because I am aware that the highest human calling is to feel and express appreciation – deeply and entirely. We are surrounded by blessings far beyond our ability to fathom. Even illness can bring precious gifts if integrated appropriately.  Dr. LFC Mees wrote a stellar book “Blessed by Illness” which elegantly puts the challenges of remedying disease appropriately along side other valuable life growth opportunities.

Here the Dali Lama shares a path towards true thanksgiving  – empathy and the evaporation of distinctions between me and you:

(Thanks to Dr. Jonathan Miller for sharing this with us)


 But also, let’s remember our own original hosts, the gracious Wampanoag indians who welcome and cared for the original pilgrims and prevented starvation.  Thanksgiving….  let’s celebrate but let’s honor the actual history.  Read on,  and allow your empathy to grow. 


This was written by my friend Robert Cohen, the NOTmilkman:


“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way.
I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house,
we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them
and took their land.”
– Jon Stewart


Children in America’s schools are not taught the
full truth regarding their Thanksgiving Holiday.

Within a few years of the Pilgrim landing, most of
the native male Wampanoag Indians were either killed
or sent to live the rest of their lives as slaves
harvesting sugar cane in Caribbean island nations.

During the winter of 1621, 83 percent of the married
Dutch women living in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts
died in tragic fashion.

Here is what really happened to make Thanksgiving
so special nearly 400 years later:

The first year in America the Pilgrims had very
little for which to be thankful. That first bitter
winter they had limited food supplies, poor clothing
and crudely built housing. During the months before
spring, fifteen of the eighteen married women died
as did twenty-two of thirty-eight men. Because of
this great trauma of death from starvation, something
had to be done to assure the future survival of the

In March of 1624, the first dairy animals came
to Plymouth on the ship Charity, which delivered
three cows and a bull to the grateful pilgrims.
Within a generation every family in America had a
dairy cow. Milk from these cows was churned into
butter. Will and Ariel Durant who wrote “The Story
of Civilization” revealed that a typical dairy cow
in the 12th century yielded little milk. One can
assume that cows in the 1600s yielded as much milk
as cows in the 1300s. In “The Age of Faith, History
of Life in the Middle Ages,” the Durants wrote:

“Dairy farming was un-progressive; the average cow
in the thirteenth century gave little milk, and hardly
a pound of butter per week.”

Making butter requires 21.2 pounds of milk for
each “finished” pound of butter. One quart of milk
weighs 2.15 pounds. A dairy cow in Plymouth Rock,
Massachusetts might have yielded her Pilgrim family
“hardly a pound of butter per week.” That averaged
out to three pounds of milk per day, about a quart

People who believe that early Americans drank
milk as a routine part of their diet do not consider
how little milk cows gave. Nor do they consider the
existence of butter churns. Butter churns weren’t
hood ornaments for Pilgrim’s carriages. Pilgrims
used them only for one purpose: to churn milk into
butter. That three pounds of milk per day would
yield only one-half stick of butter. Imagine fifteen
of the eighteen Pilgrim wives dying during the first
winter. Imagine the same proportion of the mothers
in your community dying from starvation over the winter.
You’d need emergency rations to survive. Fat from milk,
stored underground, saved for the winter months. Got
milk? No way! One-half stick of butter per day, one
pound of butter per week, carefully and strenuously
churned by a Pilgrim and stored for the cruel New
England winter.

Did the Pilgrims drink and store milk in the summer?
Milk was loaded with bacteria that quickly spoiled,
making it undrinkable. By churning the milk into
butter and storing it underground, the fat was saved
until it was needed. The Pilgrim experience made it
necessary for every family to carefully store food
through the bountiful months so that they might survive
the hardships of winter. Butter became their insurance
policy. It became necessary for every New England family
to own a dairy cow. In a few years, that’s just what

Imagine the depression of imminent death by
starvation. You come to a new world without food
and shelter, haven’t bathed in three months and are
wearing the same clothes in which you started your
voyage. It’s December of 1620 and it’s snowing, you’ve
sent a landing party ashore and stolen corn from some
very angry Abenaki Indians who would like nothing
better than to shoot their arrows at you. (Which they
did!) Didn’t the Pilgrims bear in mind the Eighth
Commandment, “Thou shalt not steal?” Obviously not!
They left England, seeking religious freedom, or so
our school children are taught, and immediately broke
one of God’s commandments by stealing food from the
Indians. How would you handle such fear? By spring,
half of your fellows are dead.

The Pilgrims had actually planned for the harsh
winter of 1620. They sailed from Holland to London
to Southampton, England, where they boarded the
Mayflower, bringing along their provisions. There
was one problem. At this point in their journey,
they were broke and they could not pay their bills.
Owing 100 English pounds, they couldn’t sail until
they paid this bill. So they sold some of their
provisions, a calculated gamble which put them at
the mercy of diminished resources and divine providence.
Unfortunately, their resources were inadequate. The
bet didn’t work. Historian William Bradford relates:

“So they were forced to sell off some of their
provisions to stop this gap, which was some three
or four-score firkins of butter, commodity they
might best spare, having which provided too large a
quantity of that kind.”

They sold their insurance policy, their food for
the winter, their butter, and with it the lives of
half of their number. A letter written on August 3, 1620,
to the “beloved friends” of these Pilgrims explained:

“We are in such a strait at present, as we are
forced to sell away our provisions to clear the haven
and withal to put ourselves upon great extremities,
scarce having any butter…we are willing to expose
ourselves to such eminent dangers as are like to ensue,
and trust to the good providence of God…”

They sold the concentrated fat that would have
helped them to survive in New England. Had they not
sold this treasure, they would have most certainly
not starved and suffered the trauma of seeing half
their number perish. Would a three-day Thanksgiving
have been called for, the following year? All because
they sold their butter. How much butter did they
intend to bring to the New World? Some “three to
four-score firkins.” William Bradford, author of
“Plymouth Plantation,” said that the Pilgrims sold
approximately 4,040 pounds of butter. That meant that
every man woman and child was rationed 40 pounds of
butter. By today’s standards, in order to produce those
4,040 pounds of butter they would have required 85,648
quarts of milk. A herd of 100 cows, each producing one
quart of milk per day would have taken nearly eight
months to produce that much milk. Now, that’s a lot
of churning!

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