Thanksgiving…that wonderful holiday that is mostly unique to North America, and is a day that we set aside to be grateful and give thanks for what we have. This Thanksgiving, as always on the fourth Thursday in November, will again see families all over the country gather around the dining room table and partake of a symbolic meal that is usually comprised of the best culinary efforts one can muster. My family is no different, gathering to enjoy a time of togetherness, reunion and some excellent food, and then spend the rest of the day in a turkey-induced semi-comatose state, rehashing old family stories, pulling out photograph albums, watching the football games or parades on television and just enjoying the opportunity to be together for a special day. It doesn’t get any better than that.
It’s true that Holidays change with each generation, and the traditions observed by one generation oftentimes fall by the wayside when succeeding generations come along, bringing a sense of nostalgia for a return to simpler times and values…yet with Thanksgiving, not a lot changes in the homes, though the world around us has changed a lot in recent years. Maybe that’s why we find it to be such a special day, set aside from the everyday that isn’t a lot like what it used to be.
Who still observes a meal of greens and pork on New Year’s Day anymore? Independence Day is almost always referred to now as the “4th of July” and mostly gone are the great speeches and parades that used to be the norm, although fireworks still remain a huge part of it. Christmas, in just my lifetime, has been pushed to the back of the line, probably because everyone is so afraid that they are going to offend someone by publicly observing it, leaving it watered down into a “Celebration of the Holidays” where we can’t even call a Christmas Tree by its proper name. Thanksgiving, on the other hand, has pretty much remained the same traditional holiday that it has always been, with just minor updates along the way to keep it fresh.
If I had to choose which holiday, Christmas or Thanksgiving, was my favorite one, I would have to say that Thanksgiving is my favorite day, while Christmas is my favorite season…there is just so much more to it than just that one single day of it. I will say that for me, the holidays begin on Thanksgiving and end on Christmas Day, so there is a certain amount of anticipation with the former and a little bit of sadness with the latter. After all, isn’t the beginning of a vacation always better than the end of one? At least for me, the holidays both begin and end on a high note and Thanksgiving is a great way to kick off my favorite time of the year.
My family Thanksgiving tradition began back in 1979, when my widowed grandfather married a lady he had known from his younger days. Both had lived in the same general area of northern Georgia at some time or another. With this union, our family and her family were brought together and I was the beneficiary of several new aunts and uncles, plus six new cousins around the same age range as my brother and I. Thanksgiving became a lot more fun after that, being part of a large, sprawling group of folks that were fun to be with and celebrate the day with.
Each year, we would load up our food and head to Gainesville for the big day. The trip up there was just far enough away to make it seem like we were going somewhere but not so far that we ended up in the “are we there yet?” mode. Once we arrived, all the kids would find something to do together and we would play for hours and hours while the adults either watched the football games or played bridge. Neighbors would drop in and out all evening, and home movies were brought out often. As we grew older and they grew more dated, they got funnier to watch and were always the source of many laughs. The traditional meal would be observed around lunchtime of course but there was also Thanksgiving supper and a lot of snacking in between.
One tradition that has been steadfastly observed year after year is the annual signing of the Thanksgiving page.I’m not sure which member of my extended family started the tradition but it became a common practice that each Thanksgiving, a new, clean sheet of poster board would be brought out with the word “Thanksgiving” plus the year written across the top. It would usually be left on the dining room table after the main meal (we often had a noonish and evening meal too) and through the afternoon, everyone takes a turn writing a sentence or two and signing their name to it.
By the end of the day, every square inch of white is just about covered with handwritten messages, from the youngest members who can just write their name to the oldest ones, and the messages cover a great variety of topics. Some express thoughts of family or what a great day it had been; others leaned towards the humorous such as inside jokes, one of which has been running for over thirty-five years now about some family who came to visit and did something bad enough to draw the ire of the entire family. Over the years, the stories about them have grown to epic proportions and one would think they had done everything from stealing the Thanksgiving turkey to burning down the house. The pages over the years are still filled with quips and comments about this particular family.
While the tradition is to write the new messages each Thanksgiving, the fun part is reading all the old Thanksgiving pages, which have been tenderly cared for and preserved now by my cousin Wendy, the current hostess of the Thanksgiving Day celebration. The older ones have darkened somewhat from age, and there was one or two years where someone forgot to obtain a large sheet, so improvisation was necessary. Now being 50 years old, I enjoy reading things I wrote at the age of 13, 16, 20, 30 and 40. I’ve come to realize that my handwriting was better in the beginning than it is today.
What is bittersweet about the snapshots of Thanksgiving past is reading the names and comments of those who are no longer with us in a physical sense. My grandfather and grandmother; my cousin Janet, my stepmother Carole and last year, for the first time, my Dad. Each of them had something to say over the years and their fleeting notes remind me that though they are no longer with us in person, they are very much still with us in spirit. Newer names and messages, such as my cousin’s children, my wife’s and our son have filled those spaces, reminding us that life continues and that families continue, with new names and faces picking up the pen and the traditions.
Each sheet represents a single year and a window through which we can look backwards in time to a single day, highlighting a slice of time, a story shared or a fleeting thought. It’s a special time of tradition, family, sharing and bonding, fun and laughter. That is what Thanksgiving Day is to me.
The problems outside the door don’t really go away and over the past two years, they have really become a big part of our daily lives and what we do…but on Thanksgiving, for us and for many, we put those aside for a few hours, being thankful and grateful for what we have been provided and most of all, for the people we care about in our lives and for me, I know who I have to thank for that and it is to Him that I give thanks for so many things.
For my family, all of them, I give thanks. For my church, I give thanks. For my community, I give thanks.
For friends, for good health, for our home, for music and books and for coffee, I give thanks.
And to God, I am thankful for giving me all of the above and so much more to be thankful for.
May you and your family all have a blessed Thanksgiving Day this week.