Have you been in a mall lately? I was walking through one today and was amazed to see that, among the black and orange Halloween shirts, there were Christmas clothes. In October! Then I noticed Christmas decorations in one of the drug stores. It’s really quite annoying. Christmas items in the stores two weeks before Halloween. Isn’t there another holiday in between Halloween and Christmas? What ever happened to Thanksgiving?
I’m convinced, and I imagine you might agree, that Thanksgiving has become the forgotten holiday. Oh sure, they make a fuss over the turkey being granted a presidential pardon at the White House, and the recipe sites all go a little crazy with thousands of Thanksgiving recipes. And there’s always a big buildup about the Thanksgiving day football games, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But is that all Thanksgiving means to America these days? Food, football and an enormous inflated Underdog?
I’m not ancient yet. But when I was a kid, Thanksgiving was about giving thanks and spending time with family. It was about being together and honoring the tradition of sharing your food and yourself with others. Sort of like the pilgrims did all those years ago. Well, actually, sort of like the amazingly kind Native Americans did before the Europeans devastated their culture through disease and destruction. But the Mayflower survivors were a thankful bunch, and when they brought in their first harvest they invited about 90 members of the nearby Wampanoag tribe to thank them for all they had taught them about growing and finding food in their new land.
Thanksgiving has to be about more than stuffing your face and then sitting comatose on the couch for six hours watching NFL football because you barely have the will to breathe, never mind move. Bring back the traditions, or start one of your own.
Nothing says Thanksgiving like crafts. Make turkeys out of hand prints for placemats, and turkeys out of walnuts with colored paper tails and heads for place markers. Pick an old family recipe that your grandparents always made, and tell stories about them while you cook it with your kids.
Talk about Thanksgiving when you were young. Where did you go to celebrate? Who was there? Was it the only time all year you saw your cousins or your great Uncle Arthur? Was it the only time all year that your grandmother made mince pie (yuck!) or pecan pie (yum!)? My grandparents used to make elixir. I know it sounds like some sort of moonshine, but it’s actually a sort of fruit cup. We always had elixir as our first course (and if we were lucky, for breakfast the next day). And our old family friend, Clarence, always brought bags of assorted nuts which we kids would help him crack – the Brazil nuts were the hardest.
Teach your kids a Thanksgiving song. There are numerous hymns associated with the holiday – “We Gather Together”, “For the Beauty of the Earth”, “Faith of Our Fathers”. Or, if you don’t know any hymns, or would rather not sing them in your kitchen, try something more secular, like Adam Sandler’s Thanksgiving song, Andrew Gold’s “Thank you for Being a Friend”, or Dido’s “Thank You”. Years ago I taught my kids a song I learned in kindergarten called, “A Turkey Sat on a Backyard Fence”. It’s just a silly ditty for little kids, but I’d bet money that when my kids have kids, they’ll sing that song, and they’ll think of me, and it will become a Thanksgiving tradition.
Thanksgiving is such a wonderful holiday. It brings to mind blustery fall days outside while you’re tucked inside with family or friends, eating turkey or tofurkey, or deep-fried turkey (which you hopefully remembered to thaw out before you cooked it). It helps us remember the hardships of our forefathers, and all of the people who helped to build this great nation. And even though the pilgrims probably didn’t eat turkey, (it was more likely duck or goose), or potatoes, (they’d never seen potatoes before and suspected they were poisonous), or pie, (there was no flour left for the crust), they still found a way to give thanks for what little they did have.
It took magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, forty years of letters to presidents and governors to convince President Abraham Lincoln to proclaim the last Thursday in November as a National day of Thanksgiving. That was 1863. And even though not everyone has celebrated Thanksgiving over the intervening 146 years, it is still a very American holiday with deep roots which should be preserved, honored and continued.
So this November 26th, whether you gather with family or friends, help out at a soup kitchen, or feed the needy at a nearby church, think about all you have to be thankful for. Then pick a Thanksgiving tradition to celebrate or create with your loved ones so that we’ll have Thanksgiving Day for years to come.