Crazy Christmas Journeys

First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript December 10, 2014

Well, Regular Readers, tis’ the season. I’m going to take this opportunity to make a holiday argument: the people who settled our country, approximately 400 years ago during this particular time of year were crazy. Theirs was an action followed closely by the modern day insanity of taking second graders to said settlement site, Plimoth Plantation, also during this time of year.

I could make a compelling case to simply put on the Charlie Brown Pilgrim special in a heated building with cocoa and cookies. But nobody asked me to present my logic, and so a few Friday’s ago our younger daughter’s class set off to experience the ups and downs of life in the 1600s.

The weather that day was . . . brisk. Imagine a meat locker. In a hurricane.

We began our field trip at the Mayflower II – – admittedly, an awesome, life-size reconstruction of the ship complete with character actors on board who only answer in ‘their time.’ Things like cell phones, toilets, space heaters, or grande peppermint mochas with whip, make no sense to them.

It’s a lot of fun, and I know that because when I took my older daughter’s class, three years ago, we zipped right on.

This year however, ten gazillion other schools wanted to experience the frozen authenticity before the park closed for the season. So we stood in line for around 40 minutes while being battered about by the authentic ocean wind that had chilled to an authentic 28 degrees.

It was how the weather would have been when the Mayflower was anchored all those years ago. In a word: uninviting. Yet they stayed! Was there not a single mother who flatly refused to disembark after scanning the rocky, cold, presumably snack-free shores? Not a person aboard who thought, “Huh, late November here seems miserable, let’s turn left and sail until we see trees with leaves on them!”

No. Fueled by the human spirit [craziness] they pushed forward and began to . . . settle.

Thankfully, the next stop on our tour was the reconstructed Wampanoag village. It was staffed by native Wampanoags who did a great job discussing the tensions that existed when their livelihoods were completely changed, much for the worse, by the arrival of the Pilgrims. But what I retained was this: The Wampanoags knew how to stay warm.

My girlfriend and I hid inside their main house, a Wetu, while our second graders scampered about. It was dark and warm and furry. We sat on animal skins while smoke from the floor-based fire made reality seem distant. Could we take a nap? Would our children wander off into the marshes and freeze? One of the Wampanoag women was holding an infant swaddled in skins and I asked her how they managed the toddler years with all the fires scattered about.
She laughed, “They know what’s hot and what’s dangerous from the day they are born.”

Hm. Our second graders had wandered from the Wetu and we were pretty sure that they, on the other hand, did not know what was hot and what was dangerous in the village. So we hustled out lest one of them trip into a smoldering Mashoon.

Out of the smoky warmth and to the village that the Pilgrims began building over Christmas time. Ho, ho, ho and pass the thatched roofing.

They showed us their hearthside fires and their boiling kettles, and they discussed their farming techniques and thoughts about the King and religion. It felt industrious and resourceful but so cold, so grueling. Mostly, I’m sticking with my thesis: it felt crazy.

Yet here we are, nearly 400 years later. Thankfully, it only took 360 years to open a Starbucks.

But as I consider their Christmas I’m reminded that, in our family, we celebrate another journey long ago that was equally crazy – – a pregnant mother, a confused father and lots of sand and a bright star instead of rolling oceans and frozen shores.

Those crazy journeys, the perseverance of those who pushed on when it would have been easier to quit, are what allow us to be here today to celebrate (in warmth) and with Joy!