The Thanksgiving meal. Family and friends gather around a bountiful table filled with food and beverage. We pause before digging in, time for a toast or prayer or story.
When visiting my wife’s family for this meal, my mother-in-law insisted we go around the table, each one of us was supposed to say what we’re thankful for. We listened to each other, some comments more polished that others, the kids squirming in their chairs, not quite sure what to say.
I kept my words short because I knew the real reason for this ritual. My in-laws were last and always said the same thing: With teary eyes, they faced each other, held hands and said they were thankful for their love. They then embraced and kissed and cried. It was cute and emotional, plus a little awkward when we then dived into our plates and immediately chowed down on Thanksgiving fixin’s. We often ate the first bites in silence, a little too quiet following this Thanksgiving rite.
On the other hand, my family had a very different Thanksgiving. My mom wasn’t a great cook, but she tried her best to create a Norman Rockwell portrait of a holiday meal. We had turkey and mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberries, sometimes wine (minus the wine glasses) and heat-and-serve rolls.
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We didn’t do toasts because no one quite knew what to do at the holiday gathering. We knew what a traditional table feast was supposed to look like, but no one told us how it was supposed to be eaten. We always ate the cranberries for dessert, a sweet fruit treat (remember, we grew peaches and nectarines). My father often asked for white rice with the turkey. My mom made hot Japanese tea to serve with pumpkin pie.
I longed for a time to share in a toast or story that carried over into the meal. I hoped we could stop and listen to each other, be inspired and entertained. Here are some tributes I wish we had shared, and I plan to use them at future Thanksgiving gatherings.
“If you are really thankful, what do you do? You share.” – W. Clement Stone
“If the only prayer you said was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart
Thanksgiving really is a moment to give thanks. We pause from work and gather at a common table, families and friends reunited. For a few hours, no matter what the situation, we can usually “act like family” and join together. The world feels better.
We in the Central Valley have much to be thankful for despite the pain of poverty around us. I can’t be blind – so at Thanksgiving I give “thanks” and at the same time think of “giving.”
“An optimist is a person who starts a new diet on Thanksgiving Day.” – Irv Kupcinet
“May your stuffing be tasty. May your turkey be plump. … May your yams be delicious. … And may your Thanksgiving dinner stay off your thighs and waistline.” – author unknown
The day and meal bring people together, but I recognize new realities that can go along with tradition. More families just don’t have the time or skill to cook, so they order their holiday meal. We will complain about Christmas decorations that appeared after Halloween. There is no correct way to celebrate, so why not be grateful, pass the pie and cheer the Detroit and Dallas football teams.
“You may have heard of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. There’s another day you might want to know about: Giving Tuesday. On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, shoppers take a break from their gift-buying and donate what they can to charity.” – Bill Gates
Traditionally, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of holiday shopping. Over the years, we’ve had mission creep, with Friday shopping starting earlier and earlier that morning. Then came camping out to be the first sales shopper, soon followed by midnight openings. Now the line has been crossed, store openings on turkey day. And so it begins … and perhaps we can add Giving Tuesday into the lineup.
“I like being at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving. You can put your elbows on it; you don’t have to talk politics … no matter how old I get, there’s always a part of me that’s sitting there.” – John Hughes
“Every Thanksgiving, we all write down three things we’re thankful for and put them in a hat. Then we pass the hat around the dinner table and everyone has to guess who wrote what.” – Debby Ryan
And we can invent new traditions for this special day. A Turkey Trot – an annual fun run before the grand meal. The Turkey Bowl – a friendly touch football game with friends and family, often accompanied with injuries, especially for those who believe they could defy aging for a day. And the traditional day for first aid as we suffer heartburn, choking, cuts and burns – and thankful we have a family member with medical training.
“Giving thanks for abundance is sweeter than the abundance itself.” – Mevlana Rumi
“This food is the gift of the whole universe – the Earth, the sky and much hard work. May we live in a way that makes us worthy to receive it.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Thanksgiving is not a Christian holiday but a celebration of many faiths. Gratitude is a universal trait of spirituality, often at the core of belief systems, a unifying tie that binds us as one – and perhaps for a moment on Thanksgiving Day, we can all join to recognize each other and appreciate the world. And give thanks.
David Mas Masumoto is an organic farmer near Fresno and award-winning author of books, including “Epitaph for a Peach” and “Wisdom of the Last Farmer.”