Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving


Charles Dickens didn't write about a Thanksgiving scrooge; only a Christmas one. Well, I am going to write about the former, since indeed, I may be one. I suppose the obvious reason is that I'm a vegetarian, and this day above all others glorifies a dead creature. Over the years, I've read horrible tales of what has happened to the domestic turkey to make it more palatable as the Thanksgiving bird. I won't go into that. But I will go on a bit about gluttony, and how the holiday simply glorifies overeating. The stories of people feeling "stuffed" - oh, a pun here! - and yet eating more; people getting up from their chairs a while later and heading to the kitchen for more pie or a turkey sandwich. I just don't understand it. It doesn't jibe with my feelings about gratitude. Oh, and grace. I don't have any statistics, but my strong sense is that in most families, it isn't said at any other meal during the year. I'm not being critical; we don't say grace. I didn't grow up with it except on that day in November. But somehow it just feels wrong. Thank you, God, for all this food I'm going to overeat. Think, if we all got up from our meal, and brought food from our table to someone with no food. I know there are Thanksgiving drives, and food pantries, but there are still a lot, a lot of folks with nothing. Maybe a can of beans for that holiday. And even when we give offerings, we still eat and eat and eat.

One of my favorite expressions is "the elephant in the room." Here's how a dictionary describes it:

a major problem or controversial issue that is obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion because it is more comfortable to do so.

Well, I think that elephant is the unpleasantness which oh, so often occurs around the Thanksgiving table. The movie, Home For The Holidays (which I meant to write about last year, and hope to do so this month) is one of the few books, movies, or real people who actually face this situation straight on. It is done in a warm, often humorous way, but still there is the undercurrent that I am talking about here. Often, this is the time family comes from all over. People who don't see each other that often. People who are usually relatives; and not necessarily beloved relatives. More often, someone (or many someones) has too much to drink, and the tongue is freed to say things better left unsaid. Old animosities, old insecurities, old roles come to the forefront again. Adults who go along with their lives just fine, thank you, the other eleven months of the year, are sometimes reduced to sniveling, whining ten year olds again in the face of parental criticism. "Do you really think that dress suits you?" "You voted for THAT man?!" "What do you mean you are a vegetarian??!" Brothers and sisters who managed to get along without killing each other throughout their childhoods are suddenly faced with all those annoying traits that drive each other crazy. One is for a war, and the other marches against it. One is a verbal racist, and the other abhors racism.

In the movie, there's a line spoken by one sister to another on the great day: "If I met you on the street and you gave me your number, I'd throw it away." And the other says, "We don't have to like each other; we're family." And therein probably lies the greatest truth of all.

If you have read my blog for a while, you probably know that I am quite cheerful, optimistic, sentimental, and idealistic. But I am also a non-cynical realist. I think this particular holiday is more wrought with emotion than any other, and more than most people admit. It's okay. People get through it. But for me, I'm thankful every single day, and don't really need a calendar date to tell me to be so. Our family Thanksgiving is spent with a wonderful mother of a friend. I don't suffer any of the angst, anxiety, tension that I've written about, but I know for sure it exists, and it isn't very often expressed. I don't offer any answers since I don't know any, but I do love the idea of people who have unhappy families, or who are not accepted for whatever reason in those families, getting together and making their own family for the day. And being thankful, and generous, and kind this day and every day.

12 comments:

  1. Happy Thanksgiving Nan. I have a wonderful family. We get together any time we can dream up an occasion. I wouldn't get together with them if I didn't like to be there. Just not worth the effort. Too much food is always served. This should stop as we are all mightly blessed. The youngest of the tribe works at their church every Thanksgiving feeding those in the community that need to be fed. Yes, there is always something that needs to be fixed. Sad but true.

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  2. My advice: leave the country and spend Turkey Day abroad. It's what we always do...but not because we dislike Thanksgiving.
    And to make up for our lack of appreciation for the national holiday, certain British friends of ours head in the opposite direction, because they love the idea of a Christmas-type family holiday without any requirement of gift-giving!

    I'm not that fond of turkey. And for me, every day is Thanksgiving Day. But I shall do my best to help my turkey-loving spouse find his "traditional" turkey and cranberry sandwich in some sandwich bar.

    Some of my friends and I say grace in restaurants. Seems weird, I know. Seems appropriate because of the labour and effort that goes into getting that food onto the plate.

    I was raised by grace-sayers. Never had a meal under my parents' roof without it.

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  3. We're daily grace-sayers already, so it's natural on Thanksgiving. We have quite a variety of opinions on everything in our family, but our saying is "it's family, so we have to make it work", and, actually, we do. There are a few subjects we politely avoid, but we share a lot of fun, too.
    As for the meal, it's a feast, so there is a lot of food, but we only do that once a year. We've taken a plate of food to the guy at the gas station down the street some years, and we've almost always invited college students who can't get home for the holiday (Puerto Rican, Korean, German, Californian). There are rounds of foosball and Rummikub, and hours of playing dress-ups by the smaller kids. I would really miss it if we had to miss it. But I do know people who have really toxic families, and I can see why they choose to aoid those gatherings.

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  4. Good for you, Nan! Most unexpected on your usually pollyanna-ish blog, but I think more people should think this way, and think before the overindulgence of Thanksgiving! It doesn't have to be that way. The holiday was set aside to express gratitude for our lives and our abundance (or in the case of the pilgrims, the bounty of the harvest in advance of a long winter). Nowhere is it said that the point is to eat and drink yourself into a stupor.

    Home for the Holidays is one of my all-time favorite movies, too.

    Thank you for writing this and reminding us all.

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  5. Nan I wish I could express myself like you. I would have written much of what you shared.
    This is the first Thanksgiving in 48 years that I am not cooking as there is a health problem and burned out on much. Thankfulness constantly coming out of my mouth. Not a special day to remind me.
    Thank you for this post.

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  6. I'll be at work on Thursday and heading to a friend's house afterwards. Yes, there will be too much food. You are right about that. But for us these last few years, we've been able to spend this holiday with kind and loving friends and they are wonderful memories. Last year, for example, we discovered that 'the kids' (those under 38) could count to ten in seven different languages. Fun stuff!

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  7. This is an interesting perspective, Nan, and as long as I've known you I wouldn't really have expected this to be your view. We keep our Thanksgivings low-key for the most part. It is a large meal, but not superflous. We generally invite a single friend, though some years we have gone to visit relatives and help them with a larger gathering. As a vegetarian, I have fun coming up with something extra special for my maincourse.

    In recent years, I see a bit of commercialism creeping in to this holiday, but I find it easy to avoid. And, I try to include the elements of Thanksgiving in other family meals, such as Sunday dinner or anytime we have extra friends or family at the table: thanksgiving, bounty, gratitude, generosity, connection. I try to remember these ideals in other, more commercialized, holidays.

    I hope you enjoy the day your way, Nan. I know you will fill your moments peacefully and with love, because that is what you do.

    love and hugs,
    Aisling

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  8. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and yes, I do admit to in years gone by to overeating.

    In more recent times, we have celebrated the holiday in various ways. This year we will be alone and no big dinner on T-Day. T-Day for us in dinner with friends on Saturday.

    Last year, the SIL invited us to a T-Day of left-overs. Mind you, I am a big supporter of cooking in advance but this was an entire meal that had been cooked in advance right to the turkey in slices on a plate.

    The best Thanksgiving dinners were the friend get-together where we all bought a dish. We thought it would be a small gathering but much to many folks surprise - there are many who wish to celebrate in this manner rather than with family. We did this for Christmas also with a bring a gift to share so that everyone had a meal and gift.

    Buffet restaurants were another choice and while I had considered it this year, we are unable to justify the cost in our budget. We do not exchange Holiday gifts and this is our big Holiday - yet, this year we are staying home with, what for us, is a special dinner that will stretch into left-overs.

    We say grace when we are visiting - at times, we may go to a pre-Holiday service where we donate a can of food.

    For me, it has always been about sharing in one form or another and I am always happy to share this Holiday. More than the food, it is about love, family and friendship. The best gifts we can give or receive.

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  9. I agree, Nan! I too feel so thankful every day. And I'll admit I don't need a special day to bake and overeat pie - any cozy day will do!

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  10. I concur! And you forgot about the mass genocide that we so happily celebrate!

    Happy Tofurkey Day!

    OpheliaZepp

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  11. An interesting perspective, Nan, and a passionate one! Thanksgiving went from being a giant drag where we had to visit relatives and drive tired, overdressed children all over the tristate area to one where we stay at home in our jammies, cook all day but for fun, watch football, take strolls, just hang around. It has become my favorite holiday now to watch my husband, the cook of the house, in his creative element. We invite anyone who wants to show up and feast in their jammies as well :) some takers and a relaxed day. I always have to go to work the next day anyway! Of course, the reason we don't drive all over now is most of the relatives including Mom and Dad have passed. I think I would not mind so much the giant shlep if it meant sitting with my Mom and Dad again and tasting my Mom's special cranberry sauce.

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  12. This was very interesting to read, I guess because we don't have anything similar here. I have had those kinds of thoughts more than once when reading people's accounts of Thanksgiving in the US. Of course the *idea* of thanksgiving is wonderful, and something we should embrace in other countries too. It's strange how most holidays end up centering around food, isn't it?

    Must see that movie, too!

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Now that I am a grandmother, it seems that I am often late in replying to your most-appreciated comments. But I read them as soon as they come in, and I will write as soon as I can. Please do come back and check. I love these blogging conversations. A little addendum - I've just spent quite a long time catching up with dear notes you left me months ago!! I do hope you can get back to read them. And I'm trying to be much more prompt now!

Also, you may comment on any post, no matter how old, and I will see it.