Sunday, November 24, 2013

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving: this quiet holiday that falls between spooky, candy-filled Halloween and big, bright, present-filled Christmas is known for nothing but its food and its gentle reminder to be thankful. The Thanksgivings I remember most from growing up were spent around our laminated, oval dining room table, which was dressed up for the occasion with a heavy, freshly-ironed tablecloth and my mom's good dishes. There wasn't much fanfare to Thanksgiving at our house; it was just the six of us most of the time. My mom would build a log cabin out of Lincoln Logs and surround it with little pilgrim and Indian candles for the centerpiece, and the corner of the stereo cabinet held a wicker cornucopia filled with plastic fruit; that was about it as far as decorations went. As for holiday music, my mom would sing "Over the River and Through the Woods" as she made pies and fat turkey-shaped sugar cookies the day before Thanksgiving, and when we woke up on Thursday morning, she'd be in the kitchen humming "We Gather Together" as she stuffed the turkey and pared potatoes. We would eat early, then spend the rest of the day playing games and eating leftovers.  I'd like to be able to add "and giving thanks for food, shelter, and each other" to the end of the previous sentence, but in truth, we probably spent more time arguing over who would get the last Brown 'N Serve roll and squabbling over whose turn it was in Carrom than being thankful. And even worse, instead of being grateful for all the blessings we already had, my sister and brothers and I were mostly just biding our time on Thanksgiving afternoon, waiting for my mom to put the first Christmas record on the stereo. By Thanksgiving night, we were busy circling coveted items in the Sears and Penneys Christmas catalogs as we composed our extensive wish lists. Thanksgiving would just sort of slip away as we started getting ready for the "bigger and better" holiday. Over the years, though, Thanksgiving has become so much more than a gateway to Christmas for me. Christmas might be bigger, but bigger isn't always better. I've grown to love Thanksgiving's simplicity, its understated traditions and decorations, its identity as a holiday that celebrates being grateful. I like its slower pace and its tight focus: one day, one meal, one purpose--giving thanks. It doesn't seem to matter how early stores put up their Christmas displays or how many Black Friday promotions there are, because for me Thanksgiving stands tall and strong, unaffected and unassuming. I guess, in a way, Thanksgiving still plays a part in getting me ready for Christmas, not by bowing out of the way to give me time to work on my wish list, but by steadily reminding of how much I already have.

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