As most of your know, today is a special day in the United States. As with so many holidays and traditions, it is hard to celebrate this day without acknowledging it’s ragged and painful origins: European immigrants, Native American genocide, homes built, homes lost, cultures intertwining, traditions destroyed. Life and death brought together with frightening speed.
Despite my interest in history, the historical context of this holiday is not what brings meaning to me. I am both saddened and overjoyed by so many things in this country’s past.
What brings meaning to me on this day is how it has been celebrated during my lifetime with my own family and friends. Thanksgiving for me has little to do with pilgrims. My family doesn’t depend on the fruit of our year’s harvest so I don’t feel the overwhelming relief of a harvest season coming to an end. Although traditionally those may have been the roots of this holiday, those don’t touch me directly.
Thanksgiving is about sharing. Is is about sharing stories, sharing a meal, sharing the joys of a lifetime. It is about taking the time to spend a day with those we love the most; to look into one another’s eyes, to tell stories that bring bouts of hearty laughter and painful tears. It is about remembering those who used to sit at our Thanksgiving table and are no longer with us now.
Thanksgiving is about family. We need celebrations like Thanksgiving to give us a reason to stop for a while. Our days rush by with the speed of the wind and we often forget the value of sharing our time with one another. Thanksgiving insists that we do this, even if we aren’t talking about our deepest, most meaningful thoughts in life. Just being together, acknowledging one another, seeing the twinkle in an uncle’s eye or the way our grandmother fidgets at the table. This in itself is worth so very much.
In our home, Thanksgiving has taken on a distinctively multicultural flavor. The meal looks like any regular Thanksgiving meal: 23 pound turkey, cranberry sauce, fruit salad, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes covered with roasted mini-marshmallows, and a plethora of vegetables. Apple pie for dessert (of course)!
But during the day we listen to Van Morrison and the Chieftains (my husband and I met while living in Ireland), our brussel sprouts are sauteed in butter and nutmeg (the way my German husband grew up eating them), we drink Glühwein in the afternoon to warm our spirits (a traditional German holiday drink), and the discussions at our Thanksgiving dinner table are all done in German.
And then, at the end of the evenings, after our bellies have been filled and our hearts are satisfied, we sit in front of the fire and sip hot chocolate with fresh whipping cream. My husband or I will read a story out loud or we’ll all listen to an audio CD by candlelight. It could be that we’ll speak about how thankful we are for everything that fills our lives (it is hard not to think about this) but most of all, we will have spent a day together. What could be better than finishing the evening with a sense of really, truly belonging?
To me, that is what Thanksgiving is really all about and why I look forward to it each and every year.