Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. The first Thanksgiving is thought to have been celebrated by the Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621 after the fall harvest. It is said to have lasted for three full days. While the idea of setting aside time to be thankful continued in the American colonies for the next two and a half centuries, the final Thursday in November was not proclaimed as a federal holiday until Abraham Lincoln declared it as such in 1863 during the middle of our bitter civil war. Whether it was attempt to get the warring sides to find common ground by focusing on our shared blessings as a nation I can’t say. But I do believe that sitting down and sharing a meal together helps to break down barriers.
Until I graduated from college and got my own place, I never really focused on how the whole meal came together. When I was 26, I bought my first place, a two bedroom condo in a large complex about 10 minutes from my folk’s house. Being a new homeowner and feeling very grown up, Don and I decided to invite our families to our condo for Thanksgiving that fall. We planned our menu and bought everything we would need to host the holiday meal. But I made one significant miscalculation, I neglected to allow enough time for the turkey to thaw. When I took the bird out of the refrigerator on Thursday morning it was still frozen. I sent Don out to the neighborhood stores in the hope that he could find a fresh turkey on Thanksgiving morning. After he returned empty handed from the fool’s errand, we filled our bathtub with tepid water, plopped our mostly frozen bird in and prayed we would have enough time for it to thaw and cook before our guests arrived. In the end, everything worked out ok, but it was an inauspicious start as a Thanksgiving hostess.
As the years went on and I got a few more holidays under my belt, I got very comfortable with the process. I love the intimacy of sharing the traditional meal with family, friends and even strangers (who sometimes become friends through the experience). I think that many of the dishes that are Thanksgiving favorites are so revered because they are inherently linked to this special day. A whole Roasted turkey with stuffing and homemade gravy and even pumpkin pie are rarely part of our everyday menu rotation. The variety and number of dishes encourages everyone to participate by sharing a family favorite at the communal meal. Even those who don’t cook can bring a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers to the gathering. One of the things I like best about Thanksgiving is that the focus is on presence rather than presents.
Now that our own children are grown and often living in far off locations and having very different work schedules, it can be difficult to have the traditional Thanksgiving celebrations that we, and they, had growing up. Sometimes we find a neutral location that makes it easier for them, other times we may have to celebrate the holiday on an alternative date when they can both work it into their schedules, and regrettably, sometimes we are unable to work it out. Truth be told, even Don missed some Thanksgivings because of his work as a firefighter. But we are always together in spirit. Friends and neighbors become like family when we share a meal and celebrate our blessings. Every Thanksgiving is a bit different and they are all special and that’s another thing I love about the holiday.