It's no secret that I love the holidays - the magic and anticipation, the stories and celebrations, the smell of snow in the air, fires burning both within and without, reminding us that even in this cold, even in this dark a light still shines. I could go on and on about what makes the holidays special - my list of "favorites" could fill a book - so I'll just mention one for now: the feeling I get when I know that all my collecting is done, every errand has been run, every card and package sent, the cupboards full of food, and that all I have to do now is go home to my family and enjoy our time together.
And I have had that feeling already this year. Twice! The first feeling came after we had just done some very special shopping for a winter surprise, tied up all the loose ends for the kids' Halloween costumes and sat down for an October lunch as snow started gently falling from the sky... The second time was as I was leaving the local Co-Op the morning before Thanksgiving, feeling happy that I had everything I needed for the next few days, knowing that I wouldn't have to fight the throngs of shoppers wandering supermarket aisles later that evening.
We all know now that a snowstorm in October does not equal comfort. Now I realize, neither does having everything in your cart.
As I left the Co-Op that morning - specifically, as I was exiting the store, thinking about all the heaping shopping carts I had encountered moments ago - my feelings of happiness and well-being were immediately displaced by something more insidious - not appreciation, not satisfaction, not thanks, but the complete antithesis of all three. How has this celebration - this giving thanks for the harvest, friends working the land together side-by-side, this offering of what we have grown - how has this turned into a frenzied rush to the grocery store, where we fume at excess people blocking up the aisles, cut each other in line, and leave with more food than any person should ever eat at one sitting? (food that we are only connected to through money)
Is Thanksgiving really a day of being grateful? Or is it just vapid gluttony?
On the way home from the store, to stave myself from feeling completely empty, I thought about the kids and what this day might mean to them. When I was growing up, it was all about Pilgrims and Native Americans ("Indians" back in those days...), paper-turkeys in the shape of our small hands with accordian-folded tissue paper tails, and a whole bunch of adults sitting around watching football. Thus far in my own children's lives, the story of the Pilgrims has yet to be introduced, and we haven't watched football (or anything for that matter) on television in two years. (In fact, as I write this, I realize that America's obsession with watching young, able-bodied men sustain brain injuries as they hurl themselves into each other requires the same cultural blindness needed to swallow the idea of the Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down to a joyful harvest dinner together...) Thus far in our children's lives, we've simply told them Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate the harvest, to be with family, to remember everything we are thankful for.
But what does this mean after we've had numerous other harvest celebrations in our community this fall?What does is mean when we already spend so much time with family, (both surviving grandparents were just here last weekend for the Holiday Fair) and when we talk about what we are thankful for not only on Thanksgiving, but all through the year? It's a couple of extra days off school. It's a turkey that cooks all day, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. It's a day of "special drinks" and playing games and being silly... but really what is Thanksgiving? What makes it different from every other day?
All families have their own traditions. (My brother has a tradition of cultivating the most ridiculous mustache possible for the entire month of "Movember" and sharing it in all its glory on Thanksgiving Day) Ruminating on what Thanksgiving really means to me was impossible without running down the list of some traditions I've been a part of over the years. I've run the entire gambit - from paper-cut-out pilgrim hats as a child to rushing a half-cooked turkey through the streets of San Francisco after an all-night club extravaganza; from taking planes, trains and automoblies to reach friends I hadn't seen in years to sitting with a few other lonely Americans at a Taco Bell in London. For me, there have been many Thanksgiving pasts - some wonderful (the San Francisco ones included...), some...well...
And now here I am - with my own young family - feeling half dissatisfied, half bored, and ready to start my own traditions...or at least tweak the ones that have been handed down to me. I want to move my family away from the rote and towards the meaningful, the memorable, the extraordinary. I want my children to remember their Thanksgivings as more than a day when people get together and eat too much. I want them to know that what we are celebrating cannot be conveyed with paper hats and turkeys. I want the Thanksgiving Spirit to live deep in their souls. And I have an idea...a plan for next year...
...a plan that starts here...
...a plan that includes friends and family, learning and adventure; a plan where we travel and laugh and act silly; a plan in which we still eat turkey and pumpkin pie, still enjoy those "special drinks", still come together to rejoice in our "Americanness"; but a plan in which along the way we gain a feeling of true reverence - of true community; a plan that makes us know that this is far more than just another day.