Thanksgiving is upon us. I have to say, fall is one of my most favorite times of the year – first Halloween, then Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, all right in a row. The decorations, the music, the food, the holiday spirit – I love it. Coming from a large family – and having a large extended family – only heightened the holiday cheer growing up, and today I help create that cheer for my own family. So I thought I’d take a moment to talk about Thanksgiving traditions and what Thanksgiving means to me.
There is always the food, of course. But it’s not just the act of eating Thanksgiving dinner. The hours of preparation and the delicious smells that fill the house that entire week are just as important, as are the leftovers that last for days. In my family, the cooking of Christmas cookies has always begun the day after Thanksgiving – if not before. The preparation, eating, and preserving of food becomes both a family tradition and a ritual of community and togetherness.
There is also family. For me, Thanksgiving has almost always involved time spent with extended family, whether they come to me or I go to them. And for me, extended family has always meant time spent playing board games, putting together puzzles, or just sitting around reminiscing. There are also the family projects that we’ll all tackle together, whether it’s simply fixing that drawer that never ran straight or building an entire new porch. Thanksgiving has always meant all of that.
And then there is the history. At Thanksgiving I feel connected to the generations of Americans who came before me, and especially to our nation’s colonial roots. Thanksgiving for me has always involved reading books about the first Thanksgiving, talking about the struggles our ancestors went through to come to this country, and even sewing costumes and dressing as pilgrims. Thanksgiving dinner itself always begins with a remembrance of the first Thanksgiving feast.
In addition to centering around the ritual of food, the embrace of family, and the richness of history, Thanksgiving has always served for me as a time of contemplation and gratitude. It’s good to take stock from time to time, not to ignore problems or challenges but rather to remember and think about the good. Sometimes we get so caught up in the daily grind of life that we focus more on what we don’t have than on what we do have. Thanksgiving helps me slow down and refresh my focus.
What Thanksgiving traditions does your family have? And if you live outside the United States, do you celebrate Thanksgiving (I’m not sure how far American cultural hegemony has taken holidays like this!) or have a similar holiday?