Thanksgiving Lessons from the Mayflower: Religion Class Themes of Sacrifice and Freedom

Picture the Mayflower and what comes to mind? Pilgrims leaving their home and journeying to a strange new land so they can worship God freely . . . Hardship and sacrifice on a long voyage . . . arrival to a new home to face more adversity, but the freedom to worship how they chose.

The Pilgrims’ arrival to America provides a powerful Thanksgiving lesson about sacrifice and the price of freedom, more than 400 years later. Few American children today know firsthand how compelling religious freedom can be, and how much sacrifice it requires.

In CCD class, lessons from the Mayflower can help to drive home the significance of their freedom of religion and plant the seeds of thanksgiving in students.

Religious Freedom Lesson

The Pilgrims were a people who wanted to worship God according to their strong beliefs and faith practices. Forbidden to worship as they chose in England, they tried to settle in Holland, but could not practice their trades and found more hardship. Their decision to sail to America to build a religious community was frightening and daunting.

Students of all ages can talk about what religious freedom means to them. Some discussion topics can include:

  • The freedom to pray and worship as we choose is often taken for granted in the United States. Think about how you worship. How different would it be if you were not allowed to practice your faith?
  • In some countries, people are forbidden to worship how they choose. What have you read in the news recently about religious freedom worldwide?
  • Many immigrants come to the United States to flee religious persecution. What do they find here? While they may arrive relatively healthy and well fed, they still have made huge sacrifices. What are some of the hardships that modern day pilgrims face?

Lesson in Sacrifice

The Pilgrims’ journey on the Mayflower was a long and arduous trip full of sacrifice. There were originally two ships that sailed from Holland with Pilgrims journeying to America for religious freedom – the Mayflower and the Speedwell. But the Speedwell had leaks and structural problems and had to turn back. The passengers from the Speedwell went on board the Mayflower, bringing the total number of passengers to 102. The space was cramped, the food supply was dwindling and the Mayflower was wracked by storms. By the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, they were weak, hungry and sick.

Conditions didn’t improve much on land. By the time of the first Thanksgiving, only 53 Pilgrims had survived.

Students can think about what sacrifices they are asked to make for God, while role playing a Mayflower scenario. One half of the class can be Pilgrims trying to convince the other half of the class to come along on the journey to America. What sacrifices will they face? What rewards will they get in return?

Mayflower Ship Craft

Students can make their own Thanksgiving craft to take home and use as a centerpiece on their family’s Thanksgiving table. For this Mayflower ship craft project, the supplies needed are:

  • ½ gallon cardboard milk carton
  • Brown paper
  • White paper
  • 2 long wooden skewers
  • 2 apples
  • Tissue paper in fall colors
  • Glue

Lay the milk carton down on its side and cut out the top. Clean the milk carton with soap and water. Cover the outside of the milk carton with brown paper by gluing it on in strips, so it looks like wooden planks. Set the apples inside the milk carton. Cut out four paper sails out of the white paper and thread them onto the skewers, two sails on each skewer. Push the skewers into the apples to hold them firm. Scrunch up tissue paper and fill the milk carton boat, covering the apples.

Thanksgiving lessons , as well as lessons in history, religious freedom and sacrifice can be taught year round.

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