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Thanksgiving: Five Kernels of Corn


Today's Snack: Read today's story and count out five little kernels of corn as your only snack today. You know that you'll have plenty to eat later today. But just for a moment, chew those five corn kernels slowly before you swallow. Imagine what it would be like if that was the ONLY food you got, every day, for months. Think of how brave the Pilgrims really were!







One small can of corn


A paper plate for each child


Map showing Plymouth, Mass.


Encyclopedia or reference book with pictures of the Pilgrims and their colony




  1. The first people to move to what is now the United States were from Europe. They came here so that they could have more religious freedom. They were strong Christians. But for a variety of reasons, they didn't have enough food most of their first few years at their settlement at Plymouth, Mass., south of what is now Boston.


  1. The first Thanksgiving, in the fall of 1621 as the first harvest was being brought in, was a big feast. But afterwards, the Pilgrims found out that they had exaggerated the final size of their harvest. They had focused on building their fort around their colony, not on raising food so much, and got caught with a food shortage as a result. They weren't going to have nearly as much food to store over the winter as they thought they would. So they started to ration their food. That means everybody got smaller portions than they used to. They had to restrict everybody's food or they would run out completely. For example, everyone might get four ounces of bread per day. That's about two slices. That doesn't sound too bad. But as the winter wore on, they wouldn't get anything else - no meat, no vegetables, no fruit, no milk products.


  1. It made things worse when shortly after that first Thanksgiving, another ship of settlers, carrying 35 people, arrived from Europe. But they brought with them no food, no bedding, nothing to cook with, and not even any warm clothing. This meant the Pilgrims had to ration their food even more severely.


  1. By May 1622, the food supply in the little colony was completely gone. But that year's crop harvest was still four months away. They didn't have the right equipment, including nets, to do much fishing. There wasn't a lot of deer and wild turkeys in the nearby forest because it was spring; they were much more plentiful in the fall.


  1. Fortunately, the Pilgrims lived right on the ocean in a spot where there was a lot of shellfish that could be taken by hand from a small boat, until they had a chance, a year or so later, to rig up a proper fishing boat. See this map for an idea of why there might be more shellfish right where the Pilgrims could get to them in small boats:



  1. Also, another ship came by and they were able to trade for knives, beads and trinkets that they could swap with the Native Americans, for extra food. So that was helpful.


  1. So they did have a little food, but for several months, there was a time known as "the starving time." The Pilgrims survived on an extremely small amount of food - as little as five kernels of corn a day - and sometimes, those five kernels would have to last four or five days! -- but miraculously, not a single person starved to death.


  1. The Pilgrims relied on God, and prayed to Him constantly, and after a long drought, they went out to the fields and prayed for nine hours straight. The next morning, it rained . . . and saved their crops. Soon thereafter, another boat of additional settlers arrived from Europe, and this time, they had a lot of supplies with them. On top of that, the 1623 harvest was great, and the Pilgrims never slipped into shortages and extreme rationing again.


  1. In 1820, which was 200 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, there was a big celebration at Plymouth, and a famous American, Daniel Webster, who wrote America's first dictionary, was the guest speaker. At the event, the banquet started off with just five kernels of corn on each guest's plate, and they contemplated how it must have been for the Pilgrims at that occasion. Ever since, it has been a fairly common practice at Thanksgiving for families and organizations to repeat the "five kernels of corn" activity.


  1. Now do the "five kernels" activity yourself, and look at books, if you have them, with pictures and facts about the Pilgrims and their early years here in America.



By Susan Darst Williams Holidays & Seasons 40 2009

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