We know from the abundance of available historical documentation that the Pilgrims were really English Separatists. They were Separatists because they didn't believe that the Catholic Church or the Church of England were holding true to the teachings of the New Testament, so they sought to sever their connections with both churches. A church Thanksgiving program is the perfect place to re-enact this story and to show members of the church family what the Separatists had to endure in order to be able to express their religious beliefs in the freedom that we so easily take for granted.
Create a play, a musical or some type of presentation that will be suitable for a range of ages, and use this as the Thanksgiving program. It can be something that is separate from a regular church service, or something that can be part of the service. If it is done as a program in and of itself, consider having a church wide meal after the program. The meal can be a traditional Thanksgiving meal, or it can be one that is more in keeping with what the Pilgrims might have eaten that first Thanksgiving.
*The Story of the English Separatists -
Tell the story of the English Separatists and how they lived under the threat of being jailed for refusing to attend church and abide by the rulings and rituals of the Catholic Church and/or the Church of England. These people had to practice their religion in secret, and as they did so, they plotted an escape from England. They decided to immigrate to Holland, because Holland was known as a haven of religious tolerance and acceptance.
Talk about their opposition to the rituals of both the Catholic Church and the Church of England and how they wanted to stay true to the teachings of the New Testament. This religious aspect is the most important part of the entire Thanksgiving holiday. After all, it was the religious convictions of the English Separatists that led them to leave England in the first place.
*Life in Holland -
Talk about the live that the Separatists lived in Holland. It was an incredibly difficult life to live because they were forced to seek employment in fields they knew nothing about, working under harsh conditions and for low wages. They arrived in Amsterdam, but sought to live in Leyden because they believed that there would be greater opportunities there.
The Separatists worked mainly in the textile industry although they had been farmers in England. They couldn't farm in Holland because the country was small, the amount of available land was limited, if there was any, and because their savings were rapidly dwindling because they were forced to use them to supplement their meager wages. Children were often forced to work besides their parents to bring in additional money just to keep the food on the family table.
*The decision to leave Holland -
When the Pilgrims finally decided to come to the New World, they had been in Holland for 13 years, during which they worked incredibly hard, and initially felt that they could worship in freedom. But, as time passed, they began to encounter more intolerance because of the permissive and unstructured life that the Dutch leaded. One man almost died after being stoned, and the English Separatists saw their children going down a wayward path and losing their English identity.
The process of planing the trip took some time, and they had to make an agreement with a company that would assist them financially, but that would mean that for seven years after their arrival in the New World, they would be beholden to that company. They even had to sell butter to pay off dock fees at Southampton England so they could weigh anchor and begin the voyage.
The story of the Pilgrims and their voyage to America is every bit as important as the story of the trials and tribulations they endured during those first few years. Nothing could be more fitting for a church program than a program that tells the story of who these English separatists were and why they decided to leave England in the first place. The fact that they felt compelled to leave Holland after 13 years is also important. All of this history is incredibly important to Americans, and this would make for a very different, but incredibly meaningful church program.