This week we will be celebrating a holiday that is meant to recognize the blessings of a good life. It is a time to reflect on family and taking stock of who we are and from whence we came. For many, it is an annual measure of our successes, our lifestyle as well as those we love. Our lives are made complete with visits and sharing. We take delight in seeing children’s faces as well as old friends from other seasons. For those in business it is the hope of another good year. We see the ads for ‘Black Friday’ and commercials for various items for Christmas giving to follow. For kids it is about seeing the cousins, aunts and uncles. It is a time when Christmas decorations go up and practice begins for upcoming pageants or concerts. Suddenly, like the sound of ‘kickoff’ beaming in from the den and the gathering of the menfolk, the holiday season begins with cheer.
For me, it was always the food that promised to fill my tummy. Miraculously, the family holiday was always a time of plenty. I was a skinny boy during my teen years for good reason. Somehow, we always had food for Thanksgiving and lots of it! I remember the aroma of cooking ham or turkeys. I can still see piles of greens, potatoes (sweet and white), macaroni and cheese, slaw, hot rolls, salads, gravy, and every kind of pie, cake, cookies, ice cream, and eggnog. Wow! Talk about a tummy ache. If there was such a thing as ‘feast or famine’ this was a time of feasting!
My great-grandmother was the matriarch of our family. As such, a formal family dinner was held in our home (I lived with her). All the aunts and uncles, as well as close family friends came to help prepare the meal and to share hugs and laughter. Our bedrooms, local tourist homes, and hotels were overwhelmed with people pouring in from out of town. We used the couches and any other spaces that could hold a mat as some camped around the house wherever space allowed. The kitchen was alive with the chatter of women baking various dishes, frying, rolling, stirring, and sharing their lives. There would be an occasional roar of laughter when someone retold a family tale, or gave the others an update on the silly things in their lives. I loved those times and remember them yet to this day.
It was in this environment that I learned about the love of family and the importance of belonging. I came to see the value of memories and the closeness we purposely nurtured over the years. It was about family and other visitors who showed faithfulness to each other that enriched our lives. It was the laughter, stories, and the departures from the ‘everyday’ that lifted the whole affair into a wonderful legacy, not just for a few but for everyone. I remember when an uncle slipped me some candy, or a dollar. In those days a buck was big money. I planned carefully how to spend it. I know a few times I saved it to buy mom a Christmas present.
But there was a time, too, when we paused, bowed our heads, and gave thanks to our Almighty God. Even with a few ups and downs, we knew in our hearts that it had been a great year and we were in His care. Sometimes, in response to God’s loving Grace, we worked through the churches to put together packages for the poor. Even the kids would collect clothing or seek donations that would go to help those less fortunate. It is still altogether appropriate that we remember the source of our bounty, and that we give thanks for our blessings.
I remember back in my grade school years when the teachers took us back to the times of the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. I can still picture Indians and pilgrims gathered around large tables that were loaded with venison, rabbits, corn, pumpkin pies, potatoes, stews, fowl of all kinds, nuts, and a never-ending foray of side dishes and desserts. The Indians pictured in the text books were all feathered out with deerskins and beads, moccasins, and woven blankets that they had brought along with fresh meat. They supplied much of the game, and the pilgrims gave of what they had from their harvests. The campfire glowed and reflected light on the scene as trust was built and friendships made. For a season we were friends and everyone prospered.
When I was growing up the food was always blessed. With our heads bowed we gave thanks for the feast before us. We went around the table with each saying what specifically they were grateful. We remembered the family, those who served in uniform, and those freedoms we enjoy in our great nation. The Second World War was over and rationing had stopped. Brownie cameras were pulled out and we gathered for group shots or posed for a close-up. Years later when I saw some of the pictures I had to ask who some of the people were. Nonetheless, I could see the happiness on the faces of those assembled. Those times were good and worth revisiting.
Finally, when the celebration was over, and the people had left, it was the memories that were left. Life has a way of changing our future celebrations. As was expected, over time some of our families and friends passed away. Many moved around the country and found it impossible to come home for the gathering around the table. Yes, every year’s celebration had its differences, but we stuck to family traditions as long as we could. Traditions are important. Even the children notice when something, or someone, is missing. They delight in repeating their memories of an earlier time. As a family, we all change, but we are reminded that the reason for celebrating has not changed. Thanksgiving is a reminder of another time and those hills and hollows from which we come. May you all be blessed again this year and have reason to share with others the wonders of Thanksgiving. firstname.lastname@example.org