Monday, November 17, 2014

Giving Thanks

Although Yule and Winter Solstice is still over a month away, Winter has  arrived in my sleepy little mountain town. The first snow to have 'stuck' is firmly glued to the ground, and a snowplow is dutifully making the rounds. School is on a two hour delay tomorrow morning. The " I saw a snowflake!" panic has begun. You'd think that people living in this region would be unflappable about this, being that we are in so remote a place and ( in theory, at least) weather changes are a minute by minute occurrence.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. The feeling of hometown America has all but been wrung out of the holiday this year, if you listen to all the talk on social media. Over at the Patheos website, Jason Mankey has written an article for his Raise the Horns blog aptly named "Killing Thanksgiving" []...and I agree completely. Thanksgiving is the single most wholly American holiday we share in this country, and yet we are allowing huge corporate businesses like WalMart and their ilk to dictate how and when we celebrate our family traditions. We have given them our personal power for a few dollars' discount on possessions.

All the warm fuzziness of the Waltons and Hallmark movies aside, there actually was a time when families came together- some members traveling long distances just for the occasion- to actually share a home cooked meal. In my house- and I know we were by no means unique- that gathering was a somewhat strained and teeth-gritting affair. Looking back I suspect we did it more out tradition than a feeling of family unity, but my personal contribution to the day was attending some sort of interfaith community Thanksgiving service where gathered to actually give thanks for all the good things in our lives and to recognize in public ritual that it was possible for the variety of religious traditions in the neighborhood to assemble in the same room without having a holy war. It was a quiet, humbling hour or so, when the world stopped and we huddled under the mantle of our personal idea of the Divine. "Raise the Song of Harvest Home" was sung lustily, although most of us had no real experience of living in an agrarian culture.

When I was a kid Thanksgiving was the start of the Christmas shopping season and not a day earlier.
There was usually a parade on the morning of Black Friday, then people went shopping in earnest in downtown or drove out to one of the malls. But Thanksgiving was always reserved for getting together and catching up with one another, preparing and eating a huge meal and then falling asleep in front of a football game on TV in a turkey/L-triptophan induced coma. ( I have a theory that the oil that burned in the lamps at Hanukkah was actually turkey grease because nothing last as long as turkey grease. If you've ever hand-washed dishes from a turkey dinner, you'll know what I mean- it will be spread all over every glass, fork and dish you touch).

Maybe I'm just a nostalgic sap, but I think Normal Rockwell got it right when it came to Thanksgiving. I wonder if he'd be painting families trekking off to the mall instead of gathered around a lace draped table, beatific faces shining, as they gazed upon the visage of Turkey Incarnate.
Somehow, that same family huddled in the food court outside of Macy's doesn't have the same effect or feeling.

On Turkey Day I will break out what's left of my thrift store silver plate and lay out a spread of food worthy of a photo shoot in a magazine. I will put Martha Stewart to shame. And all the effort will be worth it just to have that momentary feeling of connection and tradition. There will be no trip to WalMart on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, because I refuse to give over my personal power. I will refuse to cave into the pressure of advertisers and I will not be tempted to over-spend on tawdry gifts.

What I will do-after I degrease the kitchen and company has gone home-will be to fix myself a cup of hot tea and reflect on the past year and the harvest of my life. I will give thanks to the gods and goddesses of the soil and remember those who labor to tend the land. I will give thanks for having enough- enough food and material possessions, enough to be safe and comfortable through the cold winter months. I will think of the time when I didn't have my own home, and be mindful of those who are in the situation I was in just a few short years ago. I will sit in the darkness lit with a single candle and savor the warmth and the flavor of the cup in my hands. And I will be thankful.

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A House Warming Potion

1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp allspice
zest of 1 orange orange or lemon
three drop orange oil
1 cup of water
1 sprig of pine, cedar or juniper

Place all of the above in an enamel pan and simmer on the stove to release the fragrance throughout the house. Adjust the spices to your liking. Simmer for as long as you like, and store the cooled contents of the pan in a glass jar to be used again.