What I’ve grown to cherish most about Thanksgiving Day is the part at the start of the dinner when everyone goes around the table and shares one thing they’re thankful for. I know for some this is a laborious chore, a painstaking and frivolous ritual that must be rushed along as fast as possible in order to slice that turkey and get the game of pigskin back on. But for me, this had become my favorite part.
Not that I don’t looked forward to the turkey and trimmings as much as the next person. I am actually one of those people who go crazy for just about every single one of those special side dishes awarded a coveted space on that oh so sanctified Thanksgiving table.
But nonetheless I’ve always found something especially warm and genuine – something lived out in real time – about this round-the-table ritual. Maybe the reason I came to love it so emphatically is because we never did it growing up. Thanksgiving Day just happened. And we never had to put much thought into it, not beyond recipes anyway. Just another excuse to stuff ourselves and watch a football game with loved ones. Not that there’s anything wrong with watching football with loved ones. I love my family and love hanging out with them. Always good to be together. But in many ways, the day was no different from any of a thousand other family gatherings. And if all felt kinda thin. The only thing to connect it with the idea of thanksgiving was the turkey in the ceter of the table. If that’s really a connection at all.
But then, well over a dozen years ago, when my newlywed wife and I were guests to another family’s home, we were introduced to this wonderfully insane idea of actually taking time to… give thanks. Like, as in, verbally out-loud taking a moment to actually say what we’re thankful for. Such a simple way to connect the holiday with something bigger than a plump bird and seasoned croutons.
Not that I’ve given up on that plump bird and croutons, mind you.
In fact, if I had to choose one tradition over the other, you might be disappointed in my selection…
But it can sometimes be difficult knowing where exactly to direct our Thanksgiving thankfulness. Recently an online message asked me, from someone struggling to come to grips with their own growing atheism: Isn’t the concept of Thanksgiving Day and of giving thanks itself an inherently religious one? Doesn’t it require a large and supernatural gift-giving god-person to give thanks to???
No, I don’t think it does, my response explained. Not at all. At least not according to how I’ve always practiced our November holiday. And not according to the meaning of the term itself. Sometimes religion messes with our heads and leads us to believe that things like thankfulness should only be directed to the Big Man in the sky. Such a sad perversion. But truth be told, not only is it appropriate to give thanks to those around you, it is the responsibility of a healthy humanity to do so. A necessary prerequisite for anyone wanting to advance beyond the base humanoid level of ass-hat.
So, no, thanksgiving is not a concept by any means limited to the realm of religion. And, yes, please do spend this day and this life giving thanks to those around you. To your mother and father, to your spouse and children, to those whom you work for and to those who work for you. Be thankful and express that thankfulness out-loud verbally to the world around you. To neighbors, friends, and family. To the person who serves as cashier at your favorite store and allows you to walk out with desired purchases. To your clients who allow you to serve them in exchange for needed monetary funds. Give thanks. To everyone. Yes, on this fourth Thursday of November. But also on the other 364 days of the year as well.
And, yes of course, if you happen to believe in one god or another, it’s probably appropriate to express your thanks to Him, Her, or It as well.
Grateful. Pleased. Obliged. Beholden. Thankful…
So what am I thankful for this Thanksgiving Day? What do I have to say as we make our way around humanity’s large and festive table?
Well, I am thankful for a good many things. Many things indeed… It only seems natural to begin with the likes of life and love and breath and air. And I am, I am truly thankful for each of these things.
I am thankful for the job that provides me income—even if it does require me to work today on this Thanksgiving holiday. And I refuse to complain about working today. I am thankful for the job I have and the provision it ensures. I am thankful for a company that wants to make money and make money for me.
I am thankful for life’s greatest joys. Especially those found in my children. These are the joys I can least imagine my life without. My ten- and almost-twelve-year-old wonders. They make me thankful for things like gymnastics and dance, things like music and red hair dye just so that those things can bring them joy and make them happy.
I am thankful for relationships and friends. For outings and events. For coffee and chocolate, for steaks and sushi, Scotch and wine. For theater and cinema. For laughs and the good kind of tears.
I am thankful for books and learning. For education and entertainment. For reading and writing and creativity. For self-expression. For the privilege of self-expression.
For my city, my country, my heritage, and my future. I am still thankful for the days when I used to believe in God, when I followed him boldly, and all that those days taught me about life in all of its majestic greatness along the way. And I am thankful for this new chapter, for all the freedom I have discovered, and for all I have yet to unearth.
I am thankful. I thank those closest to me in the closest of ways. But I am thankful for each of you, all those reading and considering and contributing in this society of life and love, of joy and wonder, of freedom and community. For all those putting forth the effort and humility to make this society a more intentionally grateful one.
I am thankful. I am grateful and pleased. Life is good. Especially when roasted turkey and a slice of pumpkin pie are placed in front of you. Good indeed.
Well, that’s my piece, I suppose… Maybe a bit long-winded as we gather around this festive holiday table. But my turn is over. And now all eyes at the table turn to you.
Now what are you thankful for?