Archive for November 2012

Thanksgiving Day: (Fourth Thursday in November, USA)   Leave a comment

English: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymo...

English: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

"The Landing of the Pilgrims."(1877)...

“The Landing of the Pilgrims.”(1877) by Henry A. Bacon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Weir a c...

Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Weir a copy is also located in the, United States Capitol rotunda, Washington, DC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Thanksgiving Day in the United States is a celebration of the Story of Pilgrim Fathers who founded the first English settlement of the New World; before 1620, colonies, like Jamestown, were trading posts.


The Mayflower migrants sailed from Plymouth (originally from East Anglia), intending to make new home where they could practice nonconformist faith without persecution from state churches. In effect, they were early seventeenth-century refugees, like the Huguenots who had fled an autocratic France fifty years earlier.

Theirs was a dangerous enterprise. Crossing the Atlantic at that time could take four to five months. They left England in early September and landed on the North American coast in late December.

Once arriving in the New World, any Settlement could be threatened by Amerindians, extremes of climate and the difficulty of making good farm land in thickly-forested areas. In addition, they could be wiped out by diseases to which they had no natural resistance. In 1603 a colony of 1500 settlers had suffered this fate.

The Pilgrim Fathers were Puritan separatists who had set up illegal churches in Lincolnshire and other parts of East Anglia. Threatened with fines and/or imprisonement, some had fled to Holland, setting up churches in Amsterdam and Leyden, but then decided to reunite their English churches by setting up a religious colony in America. The Mayflower left Delftshaven in July 1620, the saints being joined at Southampton in August, before finally leaving Plymouth on 6th September.

They were English patriots who thought of their new territory as New England with first town named Plymouth. Their allegiance was still very much to their mother country and they had no intention of founding a new nation. The territory is now called by the Amerindian name of Massachusetts, though it is still referred to as New England.

The Pilgrims were 102 determined people who were founding a community built on hard work and unselfishness. Their first winter was very severe; they relied on the supplies they had brought with them, building cabins. In the Spring, they sowed seeds supplied to them by the local Indians. When the ship returned to England, not one settler returned with it. Their inspirational leader, William Bradford, became Governer, and Captain Miles Standish, a gifted soldier, led the defence of the colony, though the Amerindians were mostly friendly.

With the harvest safely gathered in the following Autumn, the Pilgrims celebrated with a Thanksgiving Service and meal. This is now followed on the fouth Thursday in November every year. Some Americans used to object to it as example of Puritan bigotry, but now it is mainly a time for a family reunion around a shared feast.

Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims first set foot, lies on the harbour shore near site of first houses in Leyden Street. Above it is Coles Hill, where they buried nearly half their number in first winter. Graves were unmarked to hide difficulties from Indians. The oldest stone on Burial Hill, originally Fort Hill, dates from 1681. Inside Pilgrms’ Hall the many relics include Governer Bradford’s Bible and Miles Standish’s sword. In 1889 a national monument was set up with figures 25 metres high representing Morality, Education, Law and Freedom. Marble frescoes tell the story of the first settlement.

Until recently, and still for many, Thanksgiving is a national religious festival, a unique event for a secular state. On the previous Sunday, church services are held, but the Thursday is a day for families to be together. Houses are decorated in warm autumn colours, with gourds and pumpkins, symbols of harvest. On the first Thanksgiving Day, Indian corn was a basic ingredient of the main meal, but it is now used only in decorations.

Food is traditional, with main meal consisting of turkey, ham, cranberry jelly, mashed potato, sweet potato and/or yams. Followed by pumpkin pie, mince-pie and whipped cream.

If there are strangers known to the family with nowhere to go, they will be offered hospitality, a reminder of the unselfish sharing among the first settlers. Schoolchidren perform pageants and do projects. American Football matches are played, especially between rival colleges.

The primary purpose of the festival is still that of giving thanks for God’s blessings, just as the Pilgrim Fathers gave thanks for their first harvest nearly four centuries ago.

Wales and the forgotten famine, or ‘Holodomor’ in Ukraine   1 comment

Mick Antoniw AM, member of the National Assemb...

Mick Antoniw AM, member of the National Assembly for Wales. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The following article by Mick Antoniw, Welsh Assembly Member for Pontypridd, appeared in the Western Mail last week….
Wales and the forgotten famine:

…This weekend in Ukraine and in Ukrainian communities and homes across the world people will be commemorating the 79th anniversary of the “Holodomor“, the artificial famine created by Stalin which led to the deaths over an 18 month period during 1932-1933 of over 7 million Ukrainian men women and children. The precise figures will never be known but estimates suggest between 6 and 10 million died.

It is only in recent years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union that people in the West have become aware of this concealed and forgotten act of genocide.

As a child, brought up in a Ukrainian émigré community I became aware of the stories of the Holodomor. I grew up with some children whose families had survived and lived through these terrible events. In a hotchpotch community of the post war flotsam and jetsam of Ukraine, former soldiers from the Polish, Red and German armies, in some cases soldiers who had served in all three, ex partisans, nationalists, socialists, betrayed communists, ex Gulag and concentration camp prisoners, former slave labourers and mere, ordinary refugees from the bombings and killings; all had their horror stories but all knew of and in some cases had experienced the Holodomor, the “death by famine”.

You might think that famine was nothing new; after all there was famine in the immediate post revolution period in Ukraine. However,, this was different, a man-made famine which had as its main objectives, the forced collectivisation of land and the peasantry, and the wiping out of millions of Ukrainians and replacing them with more loyal, Russian speaking cadre, to appease Stalin’s feeling of political insecurity arising in central and South East Ukraine, the bread basket of Europe.

The famine also exposed the worst and the best in British journalism. The worst, typified by some of the left leaning journalists who visited and reported on the Soviet Union in glowing terms, feted and well looked after by the Soviet authorities they saw no famine. In fact suggestions there might be a famine on any thing like the scale suggested was immediately put down and rubbished as anti soviet or right-wing propaganda. Journalists of international acclaim such as the 1932 Pulitzer Prize winner Walter Duranty were seduced by the Soviet propaganda machine into allowing their hearts to overrule their heads and their responsibilities as journalists. British and indeed international investigative journalism failed spectacularly. On the other side, the best of British journalism was exemplified by journalists such as Malcolm Muggeridge and in particular Welsh journalist Gareth Jones.

Malcolm Muggeridge

Malcolm Muggeridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After graduating from Cambridge in 1930, Barry born Gareth made his first visit to Hughesovka (Donetsk) where he saw the first signs of famine. In 1933 he visited Soviet Ukraine again and defied a ban on travelling to visit the famine affected regions.

During his March 1933 “off limits” walking tour of Ukraine he witnessed the famine first hand and reported:
“I walked alone through villages and twelve collective farms. 
Everywhere was the cry, “there is no bread, we are dying.”

“In one of the peasant’s cottages in which I stayed we slept nine in the room. It was pitiful to see that two out of the three children had swollen stomachs. All there was to eat in the hut was a very dirty watery soup, with a slice or two of potato.
Fear of death loomed over the cottage, for they had not enough potatoes to last until the next crop. When I shared my white bread and butter and cheese one of the peasant women said, “Now I have eaten such wonderful things I can die happy.” I set forth again further towards the south and heard the villagers say, “We are waiting for death.”

During the famine around 20-25% of the population of Soviet Ukraine was exterminated including a third of Ukraine’s children.

That the famine was a direct product of Stalin’s political leadership was illustrated by the gruesome statement of leading communist MM Khatayevich who summed up the official position “A ruthless struggle is going on between the peasantry and our regime.

It’s a struggle to the death. This year was a test of our strength and their endurance. It took a famine to show them who is master here. It has cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system is here to stay. We’ve won the war”
Gareth Jones was vilified and ostracised for reporting honestly what he saw. He was nevertheless one of the few who stood up and maintained the highest journalistic principles. He was banned by the Soviet authorities from re-entering the Soviet Union. Two years later he was murdered in suspicious circumstances in Manchuria in 1935.

In recognition of Gareth Jones’ exposure of the famine a memorial plaque in English, Welsh and Ukrainian was unveiled in Aberystwyth in May 2006. In November 2008 I attended a ceremony in London at which his nephew was awarded the Ukrainian Order of Freedom. Wales has an unusual historic connection with Ukraine mainly arising out of its common industrial heritage. In Gareth Jones, Wales can be proud of something else; at a time when many turned a blind eye to the terrible events in Ukraine, it was a Welshman who stood up and told the world the truth.

A Holodomor memorial at the Andrushivka villag...

A Holodomor memorial at the Andrushivka village cemetery, Vinnytsia oblast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Mick Antoniw

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