Peggy Noonan: The Thanksgiving Story, told Manhattan-style

Since tradition is on our mind I’ll tell you of one that has been happening in a Manhattan home the past 20 years or more. A core of a few dozen old friends and relatives, enlivened by surprise guests—once we had an Indian maharajah in a turban—gather with their children for Thanksgiving. It’s a varied, bubbling, modern crew: former spouses, co-workers, step children, the woman across the street. Every year after dinner we put on a play about Thanksgiving. Everyone takes part—a broadcast journalist is Samoset, a grade-schooler is a Pilgrim woman, a businessman is Lincoln.

There is a narrator, whose job it is to intone: “In the year of our Lord 1609 a hardy group of dissenting Christian Protestants, called Pilgrims, left their native England in hopes of finding religious freedom abroad. They tried Holland, but it didn’t work. And so they decided to leave old Europe, and journey to what was called . . . the New World.”

In September 1620 they set sail from Plymouth, England, on a ship called the Mayflower. Aboard were about 100 passengers, among whom roughly were 40 were Pilgrims, who came to call themselves Saints. The remaining were called Strangers, not religious dissenters necessarily but a mixed lot of tradesmen, debtors, dreamers and I hope a brigand or two. If you’re going to start a new nation it might as well be an interesting one.

The journey would be long, just over two months, and hard. The seas were high, the wind against them, hunger spread, disease followed. People got on each others’ nerves. Disagreements arose among Saints and Strangers.

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