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November 23, 2013

All about Pilgrims, Puritans and Thanksgiving


No. One Puritan pastor, for instance, instructed his followers to enjoy recreations — including sports like hunting, bowling, swimming and archery — “as liberties, with thankfulness to God that allows these liberties to refresh ourselves.” Yes, the Puritans lived in a different and far more difficult time and in many ways were less frivolous than people today. But it was the generally held view that “the Christian Gospel was good, merry glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him sing, and dance and leap for joy,” as one Puritan noted.

The Puritans enjoyed and approved of alcohol in moderation. Though apparently there were enough cases of enjoying it in more than moderation that a Harvard student of the period could be fined “five shillings for drunkenness.” And the Puritans did quite a business in rum.

So what about that dour black dress we’re all familiar with? Actually, the Puritans dressed according to the fashions of their day. Black was formal wear for Sundays, but weekday wear was colorful and bright. Commentators from the period regularly describe Puritan preachers and community leaders as dressed in colorful, costly, even elaborate clothes.

Nor did the Puritans eschew “the world.” One Puritan expressed the common sentiment that “this world and the things thereof are all good, and were all made of God, for the benefit of his creatures.”

It’s true the Puritans certainly believed in working hard -- and being rewarded for it. They were shrewd businessmen, though wary of the pitfalls of avarice.

Well, so what? Who cares if the Puritans have gotten a lot of bad press in the last 150 years?

Americans should care because of the important heritage the Puritans really gave us. First, they viewed and celebrated man as an individual, God-created being. Sinful, yes, but with inherent worth. This presented a direct challenge to much of medieval teaching and was crucial to the success of American democracy.

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