The humble heart of our greatest holiday
Things change, as they should. The trick is knowing what to let go of – and why – while hanging on to what’s essential and good.
Do we need fables about Pilgrims, corn and turkeys to give Thanksgiving meaning? No. Do we need the rest of that triumphalist narrative of manifest destiny? No. America aspires to be more than that. We fail and fall, but we get up and try to be better.
Can we acknowledge – with honesty and empathy – that some mark the day as one of mourning, for what was taken from their people? Yes. Does that threaten or insult the country? No – quite the opposite.
Can we still just do Thanksgiving? Yes.
Don’t get me wrong. I prefer the turkey and pecan pie version of this holiday. Family, prayer, once around the table with individual accountings of gratitude – and then the feast. It’s hard to imagine it otherwise.
But that’s only part of it. Yes, there is often more than enough food, but compare that with the excesses of Halloween, the Fourth of July or what I consider Commercial Christmas, as opposed to the actual Christmas. Thanksgiving is a welcome and modest departure.
Thanksgiving has a humble heart, even if the American version is tangled up in our country’s complicated history. Different truths – painful, comforting, inspiring, some pointing in different directions – can all exist at once.
That humble heart is what sets Thanksgiving apart. Humility is also a necessary ingredient of gratitude, but that doesn’t mean gratitude always follows. Some of us have to work at it harder than others.
For those of us able to contemplate a second slice of pie an hour or two after the feast, thankfulness and humility are especially important. Maybe you worked hard, made good choices and caught a break here and there to be in the place of second slices, but some people make all the right moves and it still doesn’t work out. There’s more at play in your life than you.
Thanksgiving also is special because it still implies a day of rest, relaxation and reflection, even if the rest is nothing more than a break from the routine of work and worry. Commercial Sunday shoved aside the traditional Sabbath long ago, and we are poorer for it. You can find any commodity you want on Sunday except rest.
Trading in one more hectic day of all your work never quite being enough for one hectic holiday of cooking, cleaning and socializing might not seem like much of a bargain, but I always hope for that one stolen moment alone – to reflect, to hope, to give thanks.
Do we need a football game to make it a Thanksgiving? No. Pumpkin pie? No. But let’s keep it just the same.
Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.