Thanksgiving Day Is for Puritans

Here we are. Tomorrow is that “special” day of the year in which we’re to give thanks. What’s that say about all the other days?

As you’ll undoubtedly learn with time, Vera, your pap-pap isn’t big on “special days.” Basically, I think they’re principally a marketing tool for card companies and other retailers. And, in this case, turkey growers. The people at Butterball are absolutely giddy today. Cha-ching, cha-ching.

It’s not that I don’t like turkey. Or Thanksgiving dinners. I do. Refrigerated leftover stuffing from the bird is a delicacy that should be enjoyed more often than it is. And there are few things better in life than a really good pumpkin pie, appropriately seasoned. But, really, Thanksgiving is a contrived holiday, isn’t it?

In days of old, I could see it. The Puritans harvested their crops and wanted to have the Indians over for dinner before heading into the long, cold winter. I get it. But, today, how many of us harvest? I don’t know of anyone. We shop. It’s not the same.

But I do know quite a few people who will overeat today, including myself. And quite a few people who will park themselves in front of a TV to watch NFL football.

That’s what your great-grandpa on your maternal grandmother’s side of the family always did. I recall the first time I shared Thanksgiving dinner with your grandmother’s family. I was in high school. Your grandmother and I started dating in eleventh grade, when I was 16. We spent a lot of  time together. Heaven knows there wasn’t much else to do in Southern Huntingdon County (aka the boondocks).

Ken, your great granddad, wasn’t a chatty guy. Well, sometimes he was, but usually he wasn’t. And he often wasn’t bothered by social niceties.

I recall him not being too engaged with the “special event” — that is, sitting around a table filled with enough food to feed a small army and chatting it up between shovel fulls of food. But he ate. And when he was done, he got up, without comment or explanation, and proceeded to walk to the living room, where you sensed he thought he was going to do something far more meaningful than eating with us: he was going to watch the Lions and Cowboys play football.

That was fine by me because, when I was in high school, Ken and I usually didn’t have much to say to each other. I always suspected he wasn’t going to invest any emotional energy into a relationship that might not last. He’d seen a boyfriend come and go. How did he know I’d be around for the long haul? He didn’t. So why bother, especially when the game was on?

Back to the table. It was and is the centerpiece of this holiday. It is where family and friends spend time together and, without saying it, reaffirm their bonds to each other. It is where some people (usually the women) rest, exhausted from all the work put into the meal. It is where we share together the most basic of human activities: eating.

There is something about eating together. It’s a mystery to me, yet I know it’s real. “Breaking bread” together is a more meaningful experience than simply being together. I suppose it’s why churches have all those pot-luck dinners. And why the Last Supper is such a big deal in Christian lore.

Of course, perhaps the best thing about this holiday is you don’t have to go to work. Most everyone gets a day off. Indeed, Thanksgiving day is more of a sabbath than our Saturdays and Sundays are in this hyperactive modern society that values doing over being. On Thanksgiving day, we can just be. That’s nice.

But I’m still left to wonder: Is Thanksgiving obsolete? Should we have left it pass with the Puritans?

I really don’t care about the answers to those questions. My bigger concern isn’t Thanksgiving. It’s all the other days.

It’s the days we don’t sit down together and break bread at the end of the day and share our stories. When we don’t take the time to tell our dads and moms about our day or what’s on our minds. When we don’t ask our kids what’s new. Or simply allow them to chat away.

It’s the days we’re too busy to think about how lucky and fortunate we are — the days when a sense of humility and gratitude never intrudes into our cluttered lives and sense of importance.

It’s the days we fail to make time for each other or ourselves, instead giving our all to our jobs, our clients, our customers, our churches, our kids’ activities, our … (you get the idea).

Stillness is undervalued. As is the act of eating together. And listening. And hospitality — the act of saving a seat at the table for gratitude, who often fails even to catch our eye.

I’m thinking my life would be better if I didn’t treat this day as a special day. In fact, I’m thinking my life would be better if I treated every day as Thanksgiving Day.

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