The pilgrims who came over from England in 1620 were, in many ways, ordinary men and women. Some of them were members of the English Separatist Church (a Puritan sect of Christianity). These Separatists originally fled England and sailed to Holland to escape the religious intolerance and oppression of their homeland. In their day, the Church and the State of England were one, and independent congregations who desired to explore their own, differing relationship with the Christian God were unable to practice their faith independent of the State Church. Separatists had come to the conclusion membership in the Church of England violated Biblical teaching. They fled their homeland so they could pursue God in a way they considered to be truer to the teaching of the Bible. This group successfully escaped religious persecution from the Church of England, but eventually became disenchanted with the Dutch way of life. They observed the lifestyles of those around them and believed they were in an ungodly land. So once again, they pushed on toward a new place where they could both worship the Biblical God of Christianity and live in a way honorable to this God.
The Mayflower held more than just the Separatist Puritans. The ship also contained other pilgrims who still remained loyal to the Church of England but came to the new world for economic reasons or because they sympathized with the Puritans in one way or another. But one thing was certain about everyone on the ship. Whether they were part of the Puritan group or simply along to assist them and make a new life for themselves, everyone shared a fervent and pervasive Protestant faith permeating all aspects of their lives. So, when the pilgrims made ground at Plymouth Rock on December 11th, 1620, they were also grounded in their faith as Christians. In less than a year, they suffered the loss of 46 of their original 102 members, but they never lost their faith.
At the end of the harvest of 1621, the pilgrims decided to celebrate. The pilgrims brought with them both religious and secular customs from their homeland. Among these customs were the tradition of a secular harvest festival and the tradition of a religious holy day of thanksgiving. These were two separate celebrations for the original pilgrims, but both celebrations had strong religious overtones. Even the secular harvest celebration included a religious component of thanks to the Christian God who had provided the harvest. In addition to this celebration, the pilgrims also dedicated a day of thanksgiving that was purely religious in nature.
When pilgrim Edward Winslow described these thanksgiving celebrations, his description included the following Biblical themes: