Happy Thanksgiving! I don’t know where you are in your day, but I wanted to take a minute to thank you for spending some little part of it here. Today’s pretty casual over at Casa Cas–I’m doing a vegetarian dinner for just me and Mr. Captain so I haven’t even gotten started quite yet on things and just woke up a little while ago–and today feels like it shouldn’t be as easy as it has been so far.
Out of all the holidays, Thanksgiving seems like one of the most quintessentially American, doesn’t it? It’s probably second only to the Fourth of July in terms of how nationalistic it is and how closely tied to our history. I love fireworks and barbecues as much as the next person, but I’m not a real fan of being outside in the summer weather or having to navigate crowded parking lots full of drunk strangers, whereas I’m a huge fan of big lavish feasts and being indoors in winter weather. So obviously between the two I’m way more into Thanksgiving.
The holiday has some very troubling historical roots of imperialism, racism, slavery, and even genocide, which is news I didn’t learn till much, much later in my life. I’m happy to see that the way it’s practiced today has about as much to do with its earliest horrific motivations as Christianity has to do with its own earliest practices. And that’s okay. We can and should pay respect to those roots and learn the sobering lessons that history offers and even then still have a day of mindfulness revolving around understanding those lessons and learning from them. That troubling, jangling dissonance between our best intentions and our actual history is part of what makes us Americans and the addressing of and healing from that dissonance is and should be part of our journey.
It’s a good thing to reflect on our past year and to consider the coming year, and the late autumn is a good time to do that. Something about this crisp, clear weather makes the celebration of our relationships and families feel natural and inevitable. Even a humble meal–which is what today will be, for various reasons–becomes elevated when prepared and eaten with mindfulness.
I’ve got my favorite things I like to do for the holiday. I love real linen napkins and sewed a set in goldenrod yellow back when my hands still worked right, and those go on the table. I raid my grandparents’ old china cabinet (itself a marvel of 1950s engineering and every bit as precarious on its alarmingly-rickety-looking-legs as the Eiffel Tower stood upside-down; when my family moves house, I am not allowed to be anywhere near it, but I can’t bring myself to part with it) for the translucent rose-painted porcelain my mother handed down to me. The best serving-dishes and wineglasses go on the dressed-up table. Usually there are flowers, and if not there’ll be candles in the middle. Whoever’s at the table eats till we’re silly while fading sunlight plays across whatever’s in the wineglasses. And we talk. We talk about the past year, about the coming year, about how we’re doing, about how we want to be doing next year. We are thankful and take time to express ourselves.I hear often about people who spend Thanksgiving with people they can’t stand and I admit that’s just an alien concept to me. I couldn’t do it. I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t really had to endure something that sounds so excruciating. One nice thing about being a military brat is that my family is usually thousands of miles apart, so if there are intolerable folks I don’t like to see, there’s a good excuse for not seeing them. But one unpleasant thing about being so far away from my loved ones is that if there are wonderful people I really would like to see, it’s a lot harder to make that happen with any regularity. So I make do like everybody else in this modern age.
Today let’s remember the people we love, be grateful that we’re all here, and be mindful of the egregious mistakes our ancestors made getting us here, and learn to keep the good traditions while jettisoning the hurtful ones. Let’s take the time to say the stuff we always are too busy to say for the rest of the year.
Bringing about that expressive space is tradition, so tradition is important to me. My family porcelain and whatnot is probably one of the most important elements of my Thanksgiving. The food itself changes year to year–sometimes it’s a butternut squash* lasagna, others a full turkey dinner–but using my family’s long-cherished things makes the meal feel much more official and makes the eaters of it more mindful of the occasion than the usual stoneware I usually use.
So Happy Thanksgiving, world. We made it another year. And just think of the sheer, mind-boggling coincidences that had to collide to get us here. We truly are fortunate. We exist, and we think, and we feel, and we love, and most people who have existed never had the opportunities before them that almost every one of us has now. A million generations had to pass so we could be here just like we are now. And now for one little blip of time, for one little eyeblink of history, we are here: an expression of the universe looking back at itself in wonderment like a baby noticing its hand for the first time. This might be all we ever get. Let’s make the best of it.
I would love to hear about the traditions y’all like to maintain in your own celebrations. Is there something you really like to make sure you do?
* I didn’t realize people actually ate non-pumpkin winter squash till I was out of college. I thought they were all just decorations, and didn’t realize pumpkin went into anything but pie.