Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thank Goodness for Thanksgiving

Once we passed Halloween, it's inevitable that the "big" countdown began. As soon as the seasons changed, the advertising push for Christmas was underway.

But first, we get to enjoy Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. By the time it rolls around, most people are deeply into the Yuletide shopping turmoil, checking availability for church activities or office parties and generally in a frenzy. It takes a while to get everything done before December 25, so there is no time to waste.

Whoa. Here comes Thanksgiving Day, an American original, which provides a chance to reflect and be glad for what we have. Thanksgiving represents what Christmas should be -- perhaps what it was once -- and could be again. All that Thanksgiving asks of us is to be with family and friends and enjoy simple things like time together and eating good food. Unlike Christmas, it doesn't require presents or pretension. For that fact, we are truly thankful.

The Pilgrims didn't have it easy. They ventured to this country for religious freedom and had incredible difficulties to overcome. But they succeeded and made the best of it. Their determination is worth celebrating.

Like the Pilgrims themselves, Thanksgiving is uncomplicated. The first feast was likely simple by today's standards. It's doubtful the Pilgrims were confronted with the enthusiastic banquets that many of us prepare. In observation of this most pious and solemn occasion, cooks across America have come to add "holiday favorites" each year, until their tables are overflowing with cranberry concoctions, sweet potato sculptures and vegetable varieties to please nearly every palate. Some cooks insist on including homemade noodles and cornbread along with the traditional fare: turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. Dessert can include everything from pumpkin and pecan pies to bread pudding and cake.

Thanksgiving encourages us to lend a hand to those less fortunate. Church halls and activity centers across the country serve turkey and all the trimmings to those who might not be with family or have the required resources. Similar meals are often provided at Christmas, but that season has come to be visits from Santa and toys for the kiddies and less about helping adults.

The gluttony of Christmas is a relatively recent development. People used to attend church services and enjoy a meal together, much as Thanksgiving is observed today. Holiday gift giving seems to have exploded after World War II with the advent of mass advertising, when the U.S. was riding high.

I don't expect that Christmas trends will change any day soon, although it would be nice if they did. Meanwhile, enjoy Thanksgiving as it was intended: a day to celebrate what we have and to enjoy a meal with family or friends.

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