Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Christmas and Easter are change-your-life-forever markers on our lives each calendar year and I love these celebrations dearly for what they signify. But I’m embarrassed to admit each year Christmas seems to become a manic scramble of checking off lists to try and create memorable experiences for my family members.
Thanksgiving is a simpler holiday. No gifts have to be thought of, purchased, wrapped, and shipped. We’re talking about gratitude, and the usual suspects reprising their starring roles: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with brown sugar and pecan crust, and of course the pumpkin, apple, and chocolate cream pies. This is the day that helps me hold up what the Lord has given me rather than what I want. But as I consider it more carefully, there’s more.
My memories of Thanksgiving through the years started at my grandparents’ table. My cousins and I would wait all day as the warm fragrances rose in our mothers’ kitchens and filled our homes. At last, we would meet at Nana and Papa’s house for that spectacular anticipated meal. The card table was set up in the living room for my cousins and me, the adults sat at the dining table. There would be sparkling cider served in goblets and we used the china plates. My cousins and I would arrange our plates carefully, dividing them equally between turkey (obligatory), stuffing, butter rolls, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, cranberry jelly from a can, and a dubious jello salad with coca-cola, walnuts, and cream cheese. We ate and enjoyed the flavors and the familial warmth that melded together so effortlessly. After dinner, the great grandmothers were stowed comfortably by the fire while the grown-ups washed the dishes and talked, and dessert was finally served. Although we were already completely full, we all helped ourselves to the rich chocolate custard pie, apple spice cake, pecan, and pumpkin pie.
A little over two decades of this, and then I am married. My husband and I have lived away from family for our whole life together, and we’ve moved around from New Mexico to Connecticut, Illinois, and now North Carolina. The Lord has provided a community for us everywhere we’ve lived. When we couldn’t be with family for Thanksgiving, we were with friends enjoying this same meal year over year (well, maybe just omitting the jello salad). Memories come in bits and pieces; the first year we were married, we hosted our dear friends from California. None of us knew how to prepare the Thanksgiving meal, so we bought a chicken and some sides from the grocery store. One year I made the turkey. It was terrible. It was as dry and as flavorful as cardboard. I’ve never made another turkey since! There was the year we had our last Thanksgiving with Uncle Art or our first with each one of our children. For about the last 10 years we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with my husband’s cousin and her family. We have watched her four children grow up and three of them (so far) meet their special someone and get married. And after 22 years of marriage, my husband and I have experienced the joys and sorrows of life along the way.
What I notice as I look back on my 44 Thanksgivings is that this annual feast of the same foods creates a kind of mise en scène to our changing lives, almost like a chain of memories - a bridge from year to year. Over time, there are people coming into our lives, and people going out of our lives as generations pass and new generations are born. With each generation, the table is set for the next generation. In the last eight years, my Nana and Papa passed away. I have the ceramic turkey that sat on their dining room table each year to remind me of them. They set the table and prepared the meal for me; now I have the opportunity to set the table and prepare the meal for my family and our children, and by God’s grace, maybe someday for my children's children.
So yes, Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for what the Lord has given us. It’s also a significant occasion to be thankful for who we have been given. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!