The recent stories in the news of lost lives and refugees fleeing from war and famine, hoping to find a better life, have been much in my thoughts over the last week as they have been in everyone’s. Sadly it is is not a new scenario as history is full of those who have looked to travel to new homes and new worlds, some successfully and some not so much. However, this past week has also marked the celebration of such a story but which has become part of an inherited culture: a story of hardship, heroism and grateful thanks.
In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England. Sixty-sixty days later, towards the end of November, the courageous sailors had crossed the huge cold ocean and landed in the New World, later naming their new village Plymouth.
A year later, barely surviving cold and starvation, the settlors and native Americans (who had helped them plant and grow food) shared a feast which is now remembered as America’s first Thanksgiving. Apparently, the festival and feasts lasted for three days. Independence from the old world was further cemented when George Washington proposed celebrating Thanksgiving and it was President Roosevelt who confirmed it as a national holiday to be held annually on the second-to-last Thursday of November.
At Highclere, we have an extraordinary diary belonging to the mother of the 2nd Countess of Carnarvon, Kitty Acland, who in 1777, during the American War of Independence sailed across the Atlantic by the side of her husband. He was later wounded in the Battle of Hubbardton on July 7th 1777. Further wounded at Bemis Heights in October 1777, he “fell into the Enemies’ hands.” His wife made her way to be by his side and was met with kindness from the American soldiers. She successfully nursed him and he survived, just and, eventually sailed home with him. A time of goodwill and then thanksgiving but once more interwoven with crossing the high seas.
In the “old world”, we give our thanks somewhat earlier at the Harvest festival celebrations in October where we focus on our connection to the land and to the gifts it gives us, allowing our survival. Predictably, Highclere’s seasonal cycle then moves towards Remembrance Day in early November and then on towards Advent and Christmas.
In terms of winter celebrations, both Thanksgiving and Christmas have turkey and cranberry on the menu with friends and family coming together to enjoy each others company, catch up on news and, too often rather over-indulge. All of these intrinsic rhythms of life have accumulated since time immemorial and are rarely, if ever, wholly interrupted. Except, of course, for last year whilst this year again sadly seems to be developing its own challenges.
It is magic actually to welcome guests here, stepping gladly out of the wintery weather into the heart of the Castle, and to be able to connect with our visitors and friends. We have curated our tours with caution, creating a strategy and practical steps that we hope will allow us to continue as Covid begins to frame our activities once more.
We also thought we would hold a virtual cocktail party on Friday December 3rd at 8pm Highclere time so the weekend will start a little earlier than usual in North America and be a slightly unconventional after supper event for our European neighbours. It is a good way of staying connected which is so welcome in difficult times.
Barney the Shetland pony (our version of a reindeer) will theoretically begin the adventure and walk in with Santa Claus … What could possibly go wrong?