Each Thanksgiving I like to make doggie treats. Now hear me out. I know a pie is usually in order, but most people with dogs like to receive gifts for their pets too. Especially if the pup is a family member of sorts. So, for those kindred spirits, I enjoy surprising them with my annual Pilgrim Doggie Treats. They really are cute. And too, they remind the owner of the origin of Thanksgiving.

I am amazed at what a bum rap the Pilgrims get these days. Puritanical now seems to connote a bad word. Yet these people were hard-working, God-fearing people that put the likes of today’s culture to shame if you ask me.

So I did a bit of research for you my loyal readers to offer a slight bit of trivia on this very special day:

Since our culture is obsessed with sex, let’s begin there.

According to Dr. Harry S. Stout, Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Christianity at Yale University (author of The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England, Oxford, 1986).

Dr. Stout says that it’s true that promiscuity was absent from colonial New England. But for husband and wife, sex was important, and Puritan families were routinely large. A spouse could be punished by the authorities for withholding sex from his or her partner.

So how did the “joyless Puritan” stereotype get started?

It began during Prohibition. People like H. L. Mencken said, “Whom do we blame for this Victorian America we live in?” and the Puritans came out as culprits.

In fact, the Puritans were not teetotalers. Scholars estimate the Puritans had a rum-consumption rate that surpasses the alcohol-consumption rate in the twentieth century.

Didn’t many Puritans come to America primarily to escape persecution?

There was persecution in England, but it was limited mostly to ministers. So it wasn’t fear of persecution that drove the laity to come.

Instead, many lay people were extraordinarily loyal to their pastors and followed them to the New World. It’s impossible to overstate the spiritual and moral influence these ministers had over their congregations. Ministers were enormously respected, people for whom the laity literally traveled the ends of the earth. The most famous case would be Anne Hutchinson, who convinced her family to follow her minister, John Cotton, to America.

How has studying the Puritans affected you personally?

You can’t read the number of Puritan sermons I’ve read and not confront the central question of those sermons: your mortality.

The Puritans knew that this life doesn’t go on forever, and that you need to live your life in the shadow of eternity.

It’s frightening to confront your mortality. Studying the Puritans made me confront what we try so hard to avoid in this society. But it confirmed in me the sense that there needs to be an eternal hope

Copyright © 1994 by the author or Christianity Today International./Christian History magazine. Issue 41, May 1996, Vol. XIII, No. 1, Page 41.

So, here’s to the Pilgrims this Thanksgiving. For without them, this day would not have been possible. May your day be filled with gratitude, blessing, and hope.