My family, like most Americans, celebrates Thanksgiving with a crazy amount of food. Our Thanksgiving menu is always very traditional down to the cranberry sauce which has its own special plate we only use once per year. The day before, my mom always makes her famous rolls. We rarely have very many of the soft buttery breads leftover, and the smell as they bake will always remind me of home. Grandma normally brings the pies. She makes them for days and we’ll have everything from classic pumpkin to silky lemon meringue.
But amongst all the stuffing and turkey beside every plate there always sits a cupcake liner filled with five kernels of corn. It was a tradition my parents started years ago when my mom came across a Thanksgiving poem by Hezekiah Butterworth (with a name like that you know it’s good).
The pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation suffered a harsh winter when they first landed in America. Of the 102 pilgrims that were on the Mayflower almost half would perish during that bitter winter. Legend has it that food became so scarce that the pilgrims were each rationed only five kernels of corn a day. Some accounts say that even when things got better, they would still serve five kernels of corn by their plates to remember the trials and tribulations and to give thanks.
So, every year my family does the same. After we pray, someone is always given the honor of reading Hezekiah Butterworth’s poem. One of my favorite parts is the beginning which reads:
“T’was the year of the famine in Plymouth of old,
The ice and the snow from the thatched roofs had rolled;
Through the warm purple skies steered the geese o’er the seas,
And the woodpeckers tapped in the clocks of the trees;
And the boughs on the slopes to the south winds lay bare,
And dreaming of summer the buds swelled in the air.
The pale Pilgrims welcomed each reddening morn;
There were left but for rations Five Kernels of Corn,
Five Kernels of Corn!
Five Kernels of Corn!
But to Bradford a feast were Five Kernels of Corn!
Five Kernels of Corn! Five kernels of corn!
Ye people be glad for five kernels of corn!
So Bradford cried out on bleak burial hill,
And the thin women stood in their doors white and still,
“Lo, the harbor of Plymouth rolls bright in the spring,
The maples grow red, and wood robins sing,
The west wind is blowing and fading the snow,
And the pleasant pines sing and arbutuses blow.
Five Kernels of Corn! Five Kernels of Corn!
To each one be given Five Kernels of Corn!
Only five kernels of corn and yet they were grateful. In comparison I have little to complain about, but I still do. It’s been our tradition for so many years, and yet every year I need to be reminded again. Reminded to give thanks in both the good times and the bad. I think it’s true that your bad days make your good days better. Without the rain there would be no flowers. I encourage you friends, whatever your circumstances are today, to be thankful. Remember the five kernels of corn and be glad!