The Thanksgiving Ritual
It is an annual ritual, one that took on a slightly different look for me last year when I was too sick to do much on this, my favorite of all holidays. Instead, we sat around the kitchen table and ate on paper plates, trying to boost each other’s spirits as we critiqued the food, none of which I had cooked. It was both the best and worst of times.
But as time passes, it changes things. Thankfully, I am better, stronger. And so, as I dust off the Friendly Village china that belonged to my mother-in-law, the autumn colors adding a festive touch to the table, I am overcome with emotion. I never thought I would be here again, preparing to celebrate our family’s many blessings. I am ever so grateful. I polish my mother’s flatware, the sterling that she proudly collected over the years. And I put salt and pepper into the turkey shakers I bought for a song at a yard sale over two decades ago. I take inventory of the tablecloths, choosing the one that survived unstained from previous meals. These are more than just things: they are a legacy, a tangible scrapbook, and a reminder of holidays past as generations have gathered to enjoy the communal feast, telling tall tales around the table, cracking jokes and embellishing the family memories we all share. I lovingly prepare the prized secret recipes, my culinary inheritance, and when my grown children later remark that the dressing tastes just like Mawmaw’s, I smile with pride at my success. She, too, is with me in spirit. This is Thanksgiving, the one day of the year when we all don our pilgrim hats and spend a moment reflecting on our individual and collective blessings.
Like most American households, we go around the table proudly proclaiming those things for which we are thankful. Sometimes, there are silly wisecracks, mostly out of embarrassment. The kids begrudgingly participate, joking about being grateful for the turkey and dressing and pecan pie. But once we are able to strip away the superficial layer, there are profound moments, words of kindness and appreciation for the things and people we so often take for granted. We do our best to recreate that perfect Norman Rockwell holiday, and even when we fall short, and the gravy is lumpy, it is still pretty darned special. Yes, it is a cliché, but one that we embrace as a nation and as a family. And I am glad that it is one tradition that hasn’t been tainted by cynicism in our modern world.
As everyone starts to grumble about the food getting cold, we have one last ritual, my husband’s annual toast. “Here’s to all who are here, those who have gone before us, and those who are yet to be. May we be ever thankful.” My daughters-in-law eye each other and wink, wondering whose turn it might be for that wish to come true. It has happened. We often joke about the baby born ten and a half months after turkey day.
It is interesting as we sit among the bounty, reflecting on the many blessings we enjoy that this one day means so much. We are on our best behavior, with kindness and cooperation front and center. It is as though we have saved up all of the good feelings, the joy in being together, for this shared time. But wouldn’t it be lovely if we could truly live each day in gratitude, demonstrating our appreciation for all that we have been given? To have been born in America, to have life choices and limitless opportunities, to have health and happiness, friends and family, is like winning the lottery. The value of these treasures is beyond measure.
You see, the events of the past year have taught me many lessons, the most important one being to celebrate the gift of life and the love of others. I am filled with gratitude, happy to be here, in this place of joy and peace. God is indeed in the miracle business. And for that, I truly give thanks.
As we move forward into the coming holiday season and the New Year which follows, let us be ever mindful of how fortunate we are, and may we enjoy every moment of our time together. And by all means, have that extra slice of pie! I know that I certainly will.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.