Saturday, November 26, 2011

Take Back Thanksgiving!

For most of my adult life, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday…my husband’s too.  There is no question about why our family gathers this day.  We come together to count our blessings, do something to help those less fortunate and to enjoy the warm, sometimes kitschy  annual traditions which the more they change the more they stay the same!
For example, sometime during our early Groton years, we started hosting a pre-Thanksgiving High School Football Game breakfast….complete with the requisite Monkey Bread from my youth.  Over the years, the venue for the games changed; Groton-Dunstable broke away from Ayer High and created its own successful football program…then the impetus of the gathering changed as kids returning home from college used our Turkey Bowl breakfast as a chance to reconnect after a year away from former high school chums…and as was evident this year, the faces are the same…somewhat…older, thinner, facial hair, make-up…but those smiles, they will never change.  Go to the game, not this year,  let’s linger around the table a bit longer, savoring the stories, smiles and holding hands as we know the time to give the hug that must last a year draws near.
With the exception of a few Thanksgivings Interrupted over our 28 years as a family, most years Thanksgiving dinner is just about the four of us.  Just after Halloween, I start trolling for Turkey Day dinner requests…roasted carrots and stuffing for Emily, squash soup, string beans and no sausage in the stuffing for Carrie…Bill wants homemade cranberry sauce and extra of everything for sandwiches.  For me it is the hugs…I’d be happy  with PB&J as long as I get my extra-long hugs…and smiles…I am all about the Happy in Happy Thanksgiving.
I truly enjoy cooking for Thanksgiving.  Some years I challenge myself to make the meal for less the $50.  Sometimes the meal is over the top…but every year, I buy a bag of groceries to donate to our local food pantry.  I plan for weeks and I cook for days.  I know it is a successful workout when I feel that burn in my calves and dull ache in my lower back after standing by the stove, sink and food prep areas for hours.  I am trained to clean as I go, but at a certain point, the used pots and pans and of course the dishes catch up and it is then, that I, for the only time in the year, turn my kitchen over to my personal clean-up crew.  I grab a nap during the second half of whatever the second football game is on the TV.
Dessert isn’t a big deal for us…there are some cookies, Clementines , a pie and leftover Monkey Bread…we save room for our 9:30 pm sandwiches.  Sometime around 7pm, we put in the first of our holiday tradition movies…ELF…to be followed by HOME ALONE…I don’t know how or why these movies became our Thanksgiving “It’s Now OK to Start Thinking About Christmas” selections, but they are and we laugh just as hard each and every year.  Intermission brings out the sandwich fixin’s complete with squishy bread and many a “food baby” is conceived!
Friday means Mom is exhausted and free range foraging in the fridge is the rule of the day.  Pie for breakfast? my guest…Turkey Club sandwiches…Brilliant!  I read, blog or catch up with family far away…the rest of the family does their own thing…Bill and Emily break out the Christmas lights for the windows and tackle adjusting lights on a few trees out in the yard…Carrie heads out to the movies and a meal with her childhood best friend and travel buddy, Meghan.  No Black Friday mania here. 
I have a personal grudge against celebrating Christmas before Thanksgiving.  I don’t have a problem with people pulling a plan together for Christmas…that is actually a sane approach.  I already have a few Christmas presents and stocking stuffers tucked away here and there…you’ve got to take advantage of coupons and availability when possible…but the business about radio stations playing Christmas music (much of it crappy and depressing) starting in early November…wrong, wrong, wrong…my heart sank when I saw the Hershey’s Holiday Kisses “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” commercial during the October 30th football game…wrong.
Thanksgiving is a great holiday…a NATIONAL holiday…it doesn’t rely on religion, commercialism or specified social convention, well except for the turkey thing…but if you want ham, duck or tofu…no one really cares about that…no matter who you are, you can and should stop to give thanks, count your blessings and share your blessings with those whom you love or who are less fortunate.
We know about the “first” Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims…or the Jamestown settlers…and Native Americans…it is where our turkey legend/ tradition finds its origins…but more importantly, it focuses on people thanking people, being grateful for the bounty of hard work, cooperation and understanding.  Later in our history, President Lincoln inspired by Sarah Hale’s campaign to focus on American unity during the Civil War, established a recurring, national day of Thanksgiving.  Americans were asked to pray for an end to the war and reconciliation between the states and even families.  It was a time to come together as Americans, humbly and thoughtfully.
In 1941, the 4th Thursday of November was established as Thanksgiving Day by federal legislation.  President Franklin Roosevelt had originally wanted to set the date two weeks earlier, but coming out of a depression and in the midst of war, Congress saw the need to establish Thanksgiving later in November to…and here is what I call  “the historical rub”…promote economic stimulus…prior to Christmas…the more things change, the more they stay the same…
Nowadays, it seems that Thanksgiving is about football and preparing for… insert ominous music cue here…Black Friday.  Those of us blessed to live in the Northeast still have images of Plimoth Plantation (yes that is the correct spelling) and Sturbridge Village and Thanksgiving of yesteryear…our iconic white spired churches celebrate actual Thanksgiving prayer services…you know giving thanks to God, our communities and each other…in Massachusetts we still have Blue Laws prohibiting most businesses and stores from opening on Thanksgiving…honoring the true meaning of the day and allowing everyone to gather without reference to religion or ethnicity, and recognizing the “American-ness” of the day. 
But something…some new cultural insipidness…is threatening to minimize Thanksgiving as a national day of celebration…apparently buying a new  42” HD TV for $150, on a prescribed sales day, is more important than celebrating family and counting blessings…that standing on line for hours, maybe even days so you can buy one and get one free is more valuable than passing on family traditions or helping those who are in need…that spending money (and in many cases money you don’t have) is better for America than spending time with family and friends.  And don’t get me started about the trampling, crushing, punching, swiping from carts and new this year, pepper spraying…that now mark this infamous shop-a-looza.
I don’t think so!  If everyone else would acknowledge that I am queen of the world…or at least benevolent dictator, I would declare Black Friday illegal and make the Friday after Thanksgiving, Family Friday, a day of rest and fun focused on family, friends with perhaps a dash of community service, the law. 
As of today, there are 29 shopping days until Christmas…plenty in my book…and if you think about the old world traditions observing Advent, a time of prayer, reflection and making yourself ready for celebrating Christ…not Santa, who can be a wonderful role model and hero…you can celebrate 12 days of Christmas…and not be exhausted, disappointed and letdown when the commercialism of Christmas leaves you feeling flat.
Take back Thanksgiving…give time to those who matter, who need you and count those blessings.
Christmas is a magical season and it is a religious season…for those of us with a faith tradition, to quote a trite but true saying, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”   Let’s wait…observe quietly Advent and perhaps folks won’t be sick of Christmas by Christmas Eve and  be glad when it is over…but I am rushing that seasonal blog….Happy Thanksgiving everyone!