It’s that time of year again.
What do those words conjure up for you? Excitement, stress, joy, dread? Maybe you have already partaken in long held traditions heralding the arrival of the most wonderful time of year or perhaps your tradition is the unwelcome arrival of the blues. Perhaps nostalgia takes hold with thoughts of better times or maybe this present time is the best time of your life for which you are in full celebration mode!
My email in-box is rife with consumerist fodder appealing to my seasonal emotions and the necessity to buy into the tradition of buying. It is also filled with reminders of how little time I have left to get my act together if I want to have perfect holiday celebrations.
As I write, I am listening – though not intently – to the host and guests of the radio show The Splendid Table discuss the impending tradition-rich Thanksgiving holiday. Food and family are the essence of this holiday. And while the original Thanksgiving holiday probably didn’t look, taste or feel anything like the “traditional holiday” we practice today – we hold fast to the sentiment that gathering around food – especially with those we love – imbues.
Indeed, food and family are the essence of life. None of us would be here today had we not spawned from a family of some sort and we could not survive without food. That I am writing and you are reading this missive means we have both succeeded in coming from a family and found enough food to eat. Yay!
And yet these two basic necessities for life can make life fraught. Food. Family. Ugh.
Our culture has a complex and conflicting relationship with both.
We value the abundance of both and yet most of us at some time or another have endured times of scarcity or suffered from over indulgence; likewise, we have likely experienced times of loneliness or immense homesickness and times when we wondered how we came from the same gene pool.
Our lives are governed by the foods we choose or choose not to eat, and our identity is borne from the family life we have or don’t have.
We hunger for satiation while being told or feeling compelled to restrict, we venerate the family ideal while many families are broken or at the breaking point.
We bring all of this complexity and conflict to the Thanksgiving table every year on the 4th Thursday of November – whether we are surrounded by two, ten, twenty, or none at all.
I am blessed to say that I bring all of the above life experiences to the table. How about you?
I have experienced the immense joy of generations of family around a common table saying grace, sharing a never-ending basket of soft, steaming Parker House rolls, vying for the turkey drumstick and trying to politely pass on the bitter cranberry relish. I have found community in a church fellowship hall filled with laughter and the chaos of two turkeys, 2 hams, and all the fixings being prepared by us for us on Thanksgiving Day, not on some other day so everyone can “still celebrate the real day the right way” because we were all most of us had – all 50 of us – to be with on Thanksgiving Day.
One year my mom fixed toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for the four of us on the big day. I have had Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and saltine crackers by myself more times than I care to reveal right now. I have witnessed doors slammed and I have slammed doors on this day of blessing. I have seen tears shed over a shattered heirloom casserole dish and shed tears at the realization that the last Thanksgiving dinner of my father’s life had just been eaten – barely so. For most of the last 10 years, my Thanksgiving tradition has been to be a part of someone else’s traditions or none at all.
I planned and brought forth Thanksgiving for my family 3 times in my life – it was wonderful. I savor those memories – rose-colored as they may be – as life is very different now.
Some years I have longed to be surrounded by family and friends without an invite or way to get home, others years I have politely declined invitations to join others in order to have one day of peace and reflection all to myself amid my working life’s chaos.
Perhaps you, like me, in certain seasons of life, have wondered, if only in the confines of your weary, stressed, dejected, scarcity-stricken mind, why? Why do we do this to ourselves every year?
It would be so much easier – if not healthier – to just chill for the day. And I am not by any means ruling that out!! Despite what the hosts with the most and all the gathering experts promulgate across the airwaves, social media, magazine covers (taunting me as I stand in the grocery line with my sliced bread and pasta sauce) and blogosphere, there is no “right” way to celebrate or observe this day.
As I reflect on the 45 of the 50 Thanksgivings that I can remember celebrating, I find it is the complexity and conflicting realities of my life that give Thanksgiving its true meaning. God does amazing things with darkness and chaos – just look at the earth and all of creation.
The Thanksgivings that have garnered seats at the table of my memory and my heart are not the ones that came off with aplomb, epitomized tradition, or were even all that tasty. In fact, I can count on one hand the turkey breast, stuffing or dessert I can remember raving about. The ones that stick with me are the ones where God’s grace shined through the chaos and conflict, through the fraught and frenzy, and through times of immense loneliness and loss. When the dancing glow of candlelight broke through the darkness at the table.
As someone whose life was stolen by the hands of a vicious eating disorder for 10 years many years ago, I used to dread this day of food and family. Freed from that death sentence, I now see Thanksgiving as a meal of and for life – celebrating the life I once had, honoring my current perfectly imperfect life, and providing nourishment for the journey ahead. It is an opportunity to give thanks for those I have shared and share life with, the lives of those reading these words, and those who don’t know I exist but someday might.
It is a day we can and should pause with a gratitude that goes beyond the ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ and claims the truth that all of life is pure gift. It is a day that provides fuel for, as the esteemed poet Mary Oliver penned, “(Our) work of loving the world” and spending our days living more fully into that job description.
No matter how we gather (or don’t) this Thanksgiving, no matter what is on the menu, for all of that and all of life’s glorious complexity, challenges, consternation, and curiosity, I will be giving thanks not just with my words but with my life. Will you join me?
“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18
Wishing you and yours a blessed Thanksgiving.
Let your light so shine!