Next Saturday night, two days after the official American Thanksgiving, we will once again be holding our own annual Thanksgiving dinner.
Why do we do this? We have no American relatives, although we do have a handful of very dear American friends. Two thirds of my family have never visited the US although I have very happy memories of backpacking around the States on Amtrak as a student and love the place, especially the great wildernesses between cities. No, apart from an abiding love of pumpkin pie, we have no real reason to celebrate an American Thanksgiving but this will be at least the twelfth turkey dinner I’ve hosted and my husband joins in with equal enthusiasm.
Essentially, we just like the idea of a festival which celebrates gratitude. In a time when so many are going without on the planet and when, even in the relatively affluent West, many fear for their jobs and homes, it is an antidote to both greed and anxiety to take a look at what we do have and to name the blessings in our lives.
We eat the traditional turkey because we happen to like turkey (and I like an excuse to roast a big bird once a year on the years when one of the Mums is hosting us for Christmas). However, this is irrelevant really. Any celebratory meal is fine. I like to tick off specific foods with my menu: pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cranberries, pecans, corn. I do this in different ways every year but the main thrust is to celebrate the particular joys of the harvest season so we’ve often served parsnips, apples and cabbage too.
I need to explain that we are not giving thanks as a family either for the United States of America, although we’re happy enough that it exists (!), or for our own country, much as we appreciate the freedoms and blessings of life in Britain. No, the point of the evening is just to give thanks and, the moment we invite our friends and explain how we do things, the idea always captures their imaginations and is met with immediate enthusiasm and understanding.
The key part of the evening is in the pause between the main meal and dessert (it had to be a long pause last year as we’d eaten so well). Each person round the table talks about something they are grateful for.
Interestingly, last year, three people spoke of members of their family who had died that year and what both their lives and their passing had meant to them. In some cases it had brought a family closer together as they mourned. One person spoke of the end of her marriage and the unexpected inner strength she had found through that whole difficult situation. Everyone, in fact, spoke of family, friendships and the very basic provisions which let them enjoy those relationships. No-one spoke of wads of cash or any excess making them happy.
Although our children will be asleep for this late meal (please, dear Lord, please?), I’m particularly keen to continue this family tradition as they grow. It may seem crazy to put something so similar to Christmas dinner on the table just over a month before we do it all again but, just like my American friends who appreciate a festival where gifts are not the point and where commercialism is somewhat less in evidence than at Christmas, I think that Thanksgiving is very helpfully timed to provide us with a reminder of everything we do have before the “Gimmes” of the Christmas season kick in in a big way.
So, that’s my case for a British Thanksgiving. Maybe yours could be a traditional British fish supper. Maybe you could stop to give thanks with the bounty of fresh fruit in August or make a Thanksgiving dinner part of your annual family holiday traditions. But, whatever you do and whenever you do it, take time to give thanks.
So now, it’s over to you. It may not involve a meal but what are your family’s ways of giving thanks? Do you think an intentional time of thanksgiving is helpful or do you try to instil gratitude as an everyday habit with your family?