Sunday, November 7, 2010
Turkey roasted with stuffing and gravy. Pilgrims looking properly stiff in tall hats and cloaks. Indians in native regalia.Football. Christmas Parades. Black Friday.....wait a minute...isn't this supposed to be a holiday for giving thanks to (insert deity of your choice) for an abundant harvest? When did this become the flood gate to Christmas shopping?
The official Thanksgiving holiday floated around the calendar in the United States until FDR finally fixed it on the fourth Thursday of November in 1941 and Norman Rockwell immortalized it in so many paintings.( My favorite being a large turkey chasing a kid carrying an ax who had intended to make it into dinner.) Then JFK was assassinated in 1963, and that sort of put a damper on things for awhile.
What about those very proper, starched Pilgrims and very heathen-looking Indians sitting down to the Feast to End All Feasts, the women folk serving up roast turkey and ears of corn? They were immortalized by Hallmark, damnit, and the good folks at Hallmark wouldn't lie...would they?
During my childhood innocence I remember singing," Come Ye Thankful People Come" and feeling very close to what I thought it was like to be a Pilgrim. It was the weaving of wonder by an elementary school music teacher ( whose name I have forgotten, but who's love of holidays I have not.) Thanksgiving was the day your Mom sweated bullets because she was cooking the biggest dinner of the year for relatives no one really wanted to eat dinner with. It was the day the men of the family gathered around the television after a huge meal, half of them grunting like Neanderthals when their team scored, the other half snoring through the game in a Tryptophan-induced coma.It was the time of year when school children were dressed in tall hats made from oatmeal boxes and construction paper feathers to reenact the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth for the PTA. It was when the stores began gearing up for Christmas shopping in earnest. It was the only time of the year when the choir sang, " Over The River And Through The Woods" because, well, didn't everyone's Grandmother live in a little cottage on the far side of the village? But the best part of it all was that Sweetzels ginger snaps in orange and black boxes were on sale everywhere post Hallowe'en...
Then there was the Annual Thanksgiving Service, which used to be celebrated in every little church across America. Later, it morphed into the Thanksgiving Ecumenical Service (during the early 80's) to include representatives from every faith tradition in the community...if you worked really hard at contacting your fellow clergy, a brave rabbi might show up-as if Jews didn't celebrate Thanksgiving-to sit among the Christian ministers. If you worked really, really hard at it and you were well-liked in the community, both a rabbi and a Catholic priest would attend. Everyone lined up, organized by the minister in the host church, to read a bit of scripture from the Bible or mumble an obligatory prayer of thanksgiving for the country. As a new deacon, I recall these events being challenging and uncomfortable because the prayers had to be generic and not reflect the dogma of your personal denomination lest you offend visitors. I wonder now how they would react if a Wiccan or Pagan priest or priestess were invited to participate...or if a Native American came by to give thanks to the spirit of the turkey for sacrificing it's life to feed all of us hungry congregants.
After a while there weren't any church services Thanksgiving morning ( 'folks are too busy cooking dinner') and for while the service was held the night before, then eventually that stopped, too( 'folks are out of town, not enough people would show up for a service'). Pretty soon the majority of society forgot that Thanksgiving was primarily designed as a civil religious holiday on which to give thanks for what you received during the previous year, and to humbly ask for even more during the coming year (pretty cheeky idea, actually).
As I got older, the singing stopped, the annual big blow-out dinner became totally my responsibility, nobody watched football ( or whatever Disney had on), and I got to clean up said big blow-out dinner alone, because my mother and step-sister were in such a hurry to get home after they ate that they couldn't wait for me to clear the table and store the food, much less slop turkey-grease coated dishes through several hand-washings because we kept running out of hot water before the mountain of used eating utensils, pots, pans and plates could be washed squeaky clean. I will say one good thing for turkey grease: it's a great emollient.. After two hours of picking at a 20 lb. turkey carcass, my hands had never been softer any other time of the year. The bones were immediately put into a pot of water with sliced onion, garlic, vegetables and seasoning to start the biggest and best pot of soup all year. Turkey soup is truly a gift directly from the Gods.
My favorite part of Thanksgiving was after everyone went home, the football games were over, and Mom went to bed. Then I could drag out the platter of turkey meat, stuffing and gravy out of the refrigerator and have my own private feast, in it quiet. It was the only time I felt thankful during the whole holiday, and I suspect it had more to do with oral satiation than anything else. I just wanted to relax and enjoy some food in the peace and comfort of the dwindling evening. Sometimes I'd light a candle and eat my mini-after feast in silence, or accompanied by a little humming of " Come Ye Thankful People Come" (which I now sing at Lughnassah, because I feel it's more appropriate...or Christmas carols on the stereo ( phonograph, you know, that thing that played records-flat black plastic disks the proceeded CD players that use flat silver plastic disks...).
The next day would be HUGE...Black Friday. It even sounded exciting...Black Friday.There were mobs of people everywhere. For a long time I actually thought it was another holiday until I realized the whole idea of an early Christmas parade was to get people into town to shop. Truly, in my unsuspecting innocence, I believed it was the thing we all did the day after Thanksgiving, in fact, it was the American thing to do, since the National Guard and every Scout troop from far and wide showed up to parade down Market Street.
It was a celebration! I didn't have an inkling that it had anything at all to do with crass commercialism, child of the Age of Innocence I was then. Besides, Santa Claus checked in to collect his mail at the end of the big she-bang, and if the intention of the day was anything less than pure, he wouldn't have bothered, right? Later, working in retail, I recall the thrill and hum of Macy's on Black Friday (and the thrill of time and a half) when the store was so jammed with holiday ha ha I couldn't even get off the register to eat lunch (or dinner). It was a glorious time to make memories.
Memories...That's what I believe to be the true meaning of Thanksgiving. We are to remember to give thanks...Giving thanks... what we should already be doing all year long...being truly thankful for what we are given throughout the year. The practice of gratitude transcends thanksgiving into thanksliving...acknowledgment of the little things we receive every day.A smile from a stranger passing on the street, someone holding the door for another...daily kindness we all can share, and truly counting our blessings great and small. Thanksliving. It doesn't cost anything, doesn't take up much time, and everyone can do it-if they choose. Gratefully living in the moment, and gathering abundance like so many fallen Autumn leaves...how beautiful life is to live in gratitude.