Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. I've kind of been bitter toward Christmas for a while because it seems to overshadow this wonderful day. The observance of Thanksgiving has become a day to eat until you are sick, watch football all day, and plan your Black Friday strategy.
My husband asked me at some point in our marriage, why I like Thanksgiving so much. At first, I said it was the food, but as we got talking about it, I realized I don't like turkey all that much, and soggy bread is something I just can't eat, so stuffing is out. I do like mashed potatoes and gravy, but I can get that any Sunday. Pumpkin pie is great, but I like other pies too. So it's not the food... I like college football, but I don't need to watch it all day. It certainly isn't that. Family has a lot to do with it, but even getting together with family, I feel that something is missing.
Growing up, we had a long-standing tradition of going to my great-aunt's house to eat a huge meal, most of it home grown by her, visit with lots of relatives, and then play and relax, and even watch some football. The smells of her house still come to mind when I think about it. My Aunt Allene is gone now, and we've been kind of lost on Thanksgiving ever since. We can re-create the food, gather family, and watch football, but something has changed.
I think it's her. My great-aunt knew probably better than anyone what it meant to starve, to have nothing. She practically raised her children by herself. She dug post holes for a dime a piece to make money. Her garden wasn't a hobby, it was survival. When she was able to put on a Thanksgiving feast, she was truly thankful just to be able to eat. Despite her hardships, she was the happiest person I knew. She really knew how to be thankful, and it could not be contained inside her. Her home was warm, not just from the cook oven. She made it that way.
Ever since I came to that realization, I've been trying to find ways to really observe Thanksgiving. It seems to me that Thanksgiving should be tied to Christmas, but not as a shopping holiday. Doesn't it make sense to start the advent with overwhelming gratitude? I know I am very thankful for the birth of the Savior. Can Thanksgiving be observed as a spiritual preparation for Christmas?
Last year, I attempted to read the old testament again. Not just the interesting parts, all of it. I still haven't finished, but I did get something that I had never realized before. Thanksgiving is actually biblical. It started way before the pilgrims. In Exodus 23 we read about three feasts that the Israelites were to observe. Everyone knows about the Passover in the spring, but I had not heard about the other two: the feast of the harvest, when the first fruits were harvested in summer, and then the feast of ingathering, at the end of the season when everything was harvested and tallied. It hit me that even way back in the bible, people were inclined and even commanded to be thankful for the crops that the Lord had given them.
So how do we show true gratitude today? Are we content with what we have? Is "thank you" a common phrase in our speaking? I know I really want to teach my children to be grateful for everything in their lives, but I also need to teach myself. I get frustrated with my son because he is never satisfied. If you give him one candy, he wants three. Go to the zoo today and he wants to go tomorrow too. I am somewhat the same though, so I need to work on myself first.
Here is what I plan to do this year and I hope to include my children as well. We are going to write down people that we are thankful for. Try to think of someone other than close friends or family. This year, I am very thankful for a few families in the neighborhood that have been so open and kind to us as we moved here. In past years, I have chosen people that taught my children at church, because that is a hard job sometimes.
Once we have a list, we will think of a gift to give them, but this is not about buying things. It can be as simple as a verbal thank you, or a note. I like to give a homemade food item, or something that is useful. I think this year I will be making more of those cinnamon sugar almonds to give. In years past, I have given homemade jam with fresh bread. The point is not to be fancy or expensive, so that the "thank you" of the gift can shine through.
Hopefully, we can make this holiday what it once was for me, and maybe my kids will learn a bit about gratitude on the way.
So, who are you thankful for?