Our national holiday stems from the feast held almost 400 years ago by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians to celebrate the colony’s first successful harvest. The Pilgrims came from religious congregations who originally fled the volatile political environment in England for the relative calm and tolerance of Holland in the Netherlands. They were known as Brownists, named after Robert Browne an Anglican priest who preached against the doctrines of the Church of England. The Brownists were advocates of a congregational form of organization for the Church of England starting in the time of Henry VIII. Openly disagreeing with the monarchy however, was a rather hazardous affair.
Mary I, Queen of England and Ireland from 1553 – 1558, was the only child of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon that survived to adulthood. As the fourth crowned monarch of the Tudor dynasty, Mary is most remembered for her restoration of Roman Catholicism after the short reign of her younger Protestant half-brother. Mary was fond of executing protestants by burning them at the stake and earned the nickname “Bloody Mary”. After her death, Mary’s successor Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry and Anne Boleyn re-established the Protestant Church of England – where the Monarch is the Supreme Governor, rather than that power residing with the Catholic Pope. Regardless of who was in charge – it was a messy time to not agree with the only official religion in town, even though it could change depending on who was in charge. Under the 1559 Act of Uniformity, it was illegal not to attend official Church of England services with a fine of one shilling for each missed Sunday and holy day. The penalties for conducting unofficial services included large fines and imprisonment. Your activities contrary to the Church could also be interpreted as Sedition, which generally resulted in execution.
So back to our intrepid Pilgrims. They had a different set of ideas and it was a dangerous time for that sort of thing so they packed their bags and went to Holland. Holland? I thought they went to America? Gouda Cheese is not a traditional Thanksgiving item! Well they did not stay there – apparently Holland was a bit too tolerant as the Pilgrims were worried about losing their cultural identity so they hatched plans to establish a new colony in North America.
As the trip would be long and arduous, it was thought that the initial settlement should be undertaken primarily by the younger and stronger members. The remainder agreed to follow if and when they could at a later date. It was time to go, so a small ship was procured to set sail for North America – the 60 ton Speedwell. Speedwell? Wait a minute – that does not sound right. My first grade project was to build the Mayflower with toilet paper tubes and tongue depressors. Well all was not well with the Speedwell. It was supposed to bring some passengers from the Netherlands to England and then set sail for North America, but…. it leaked. A second larger ship, the Mayflower had already been leased for other transport and exploration services. Once the Speedwell was officially deemed not to be seaworthy, plans were changed and some crew and passengers were transferred to the Mayflower.
The Mayflower was no cruise ship. She was a merchant vessel and not built for passengers at all. She was a typical English merchant ship of the time, square-rigged with high castle like structures fore and aft that served to protect the crew and main deck from the elements. But having such structures made the ship extremely difficult to sail against the wind. As a result the voyage to America took over 2 months. There were roughly 102 passengers and 30 crew members aboard. The Mayflower carried stores aboard to supply the Pilgrims with essentials needed for their journey and future lives. Among them would have been tools, weapons, live animals including dogs, sheep, goats and poultry.
The crossing would be miserable, with huge waves constantly crashing against the topside deck which eventually fractured key structural supports. After long delays to even get the voyage started, the passengers put up with shortages of food and supplies, and also had to help repair the ship. One passenger and one crew member died during the voyage and one child was born. The Pilgrims lived ‘Tween decks with no privacy and only a chamber pot for a toilet. They suffered injuries from being thrown against the walls of the wind tossed ship and when they weren’t seasick they were mostly bored. The rare opportunities to go above deck and get fresh air occurred when it was time to empty chamber pots.
The Pilgrims eventually arrived in the New World, but it was winter – making it very difficult for them to find food and build shelters. Already weakened by their 66 day voyage, most passengers failed to survive the first few months. Fortunately, native Americans called the Wampanoag lived in the area and shared knowledge of local game and crops, helping the colonists survive. Waterfowl such as duck was plentiful and during the winter wild game such as rabbit, squirrel, deer and yes, turkey. The first Thanksgiving feast was held in the autumn of 1621 to celebrate the first successful harvest.
So what does this have to do with travel?
Well you can still make the voyage between England and America. One great way to do this is aboard the Queen Mary 2 – recognized as Best Luxury Cruise Ship by readers of Travel Weekly. It won’t take you 66 days, but only 7 or 8. The Queen Mary 2 entered service in 2004. Built in France and coming in at 148,528 tons – over 800 times the size of the Mayflower at 180 tons. The Queen Mary 2 is 1132 ft long – 10 times longer than the Mayflower at 100 ft. The Mayflower had 4 decks, the Queen Mary 2 has 14.
Queen Mary 2 holds about 2600 passengers (Mayflower 102) and a crew size of 1253 (Mayflower 30).
OK – obviously there is really no comparison, and you certainly won’t have to live ‘tween deck and only get to go up top to empty your chamber pot! Also you won’t be bored. There is a long list of daily activities – Fitness class, card games, dance lessons, lectures, and watercolor instruction to name but a few. The on board planetarium is a big draw with 3 shows a day produced by the NY American Museum of Natural History. Computer, IPod and IPhone classes are offered as well as interactive fun gatherings in the Golden Lion Pub for trivia contests.
In the evening, entertainment comes alive in the plush Royal Court Theatre. The spectacular Queens room lounge recalls the main ballroom of a 1930s ocean liner with all the glitter. Veuve Clicquot lent its name to the Champagne Bar. The Chart Room is a great place for pre-dinner drinks, being kind of a traditional ocean liner smoking room, but without the smoke. Across the way is the wine bar, Sir Samuel’s.
The Canyon Ranch Spa is the largest ever mounted in a ship, with a staff of 50 to perform an array of services. Movies are shown under the stars on warm nights. The deck space has the longest promenade at sea. Five swimming pools, some with adjoining whirlpools are available in the open and under a Magrodome. Sports include: tennis, golf driving range, basketball and shuffleboard.
The main dining venue is the soaring Britannia Restaurant, a spectacular space with 3 tiers. Spaciousness and elegance are apparent in all the public room corridors, foyers and lounges.
If the Pilgrims were aboard the Queen Mary 2, they may have never left the ship when it arrived in America, and we would miss out on our annual Thanksgiving feast (and day of Football). So let’s give thanks to the Pilgrims, thanks to the native Americans that kept them all from starving to death in the new world – and thanks for the many amazing travel options we have today!
May you and your family have a great Thanksgiving holiday.