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Next week we Americans will celebrate our Thanksgiving Day. During my lifetime some things have changed while others stay the same. Interestingly, it’s a bigger travel event than even Christmas, our biggest holiday for spending money. Let’s look at some Thanksgiving memories and see what’s permanent about it.
Thanksgiving in the 1960s
When I was a kid, we enjoyed having a long weekend off from school at least as much as anything else going on. It was too cold and wet to jump in leaves any more, where I lived, but we played outside anyway if it wasn’t actively raining.
My mother, who insisted on doing holiday feasts all by herself, got busy and roasted an enormous turkey, cooked up sides, baked a pumpkin pie, and got out the fancy plates and silverware. She put a linen tablecloth on the table and set everything up beautifully.
My father carved that turkey with an electric carving knife, which was the latest thing. I don’t remember any devotional activity particularly, or any ceremony about the holiday nature of the food. We were on our best behavior, though, because today was special. Everyone passed the dishes of food around after getting served turkey. No fighting allowed.
After dinner, though many people watched football back then, we didn’t. We just weren’t a sports family. After the food was put up and the mess cleared away, we got together and made music. My mother was a very accomplished pianist, my father played several musical instruments, and I played ukulele and later guitar. We all sang.
In the evening, old sentimental movies came on the television and my mother and I liked watching them. Thanksgiving back then was just a nice warm day with the family that everyone enjoyed.
Thanksgiving in the 1970s
After my mother died we moved to Florida. Our Thanksgiving there was marked by a meal of turkey roll, potatoes, and a vegetable with a frozen pie for dessert. My brothers and I joined a group of kids who invaded the VA hospital building site to jump in the gargantuan sand piles on the edge of the pit for the basement. Later we went swimming while everyone else watched football.
This was followed by a few years which I don’t remember Thanksgiving at all. I suppose we had it; I just don’t remember it. High school was a bit rough I guess.
By the time I was nineteen I was in the Army. Thanksgiving became a matter of menu at the mess hall, but otherwise no different from other days really. Once I was out of training we had to work those days like any other. It’s possible I had Thanksgiving Dinner at 3 AM, or 9 PM. We rotated shifts so again it’s hard to remember.
When I got out of the Army and my husband and I got an apartment in Florida, we pooled with my father for Thanksgivings and had turkey and music again.
My husband and I moved to South Carolina and stayed about 10 years. We soon had friends with whom we shared Thanksgiving and they put some meaning into it, being church people. But it fit the paradigm so we weren’t uncomfortable with it.
We also informally talked about what we were grateful for and had fun with music, reading catalogs with an 80-pound Basset lapdogging on me, and just relaxing while the men withdrew and did whatever. Probably talked about guns, fishing and hunting. They weren’t football people either.
New England Thanksgivings
When we got to New England, we started going to my husband’s family for Thanksgiving. They live about 3 hours away so we’d make a day of it.
At first we had a hydroelectric station to watch over, that required someone to walk to it and check the instrumentation. Usually the trash grate needed clearing too, that time of year, so that got done in the morning before we hit the road. That ended, but our schedule for travel is about the same.
We took requested items as this was a potluck Thanksgiving with everyone bringing part of the feast. And what a feast it was! And still is. This is a family of foodies so we always got some traditional dishes, like the turkey, creamed onions, and green bean casserole, but also new takes on dressing, sweet potatoes, and appetizers.
Dessert is an ongoing thing starting sometime after dinner, because there’s at least three pies, some cookies, and fudge to start with. They’re often consumed during a Trivial Pursuit game. Guess what–no football again.
Meaning works, and we’re practical too
But what happens at the meal is beautiful too. We take turns expressing gratitude for things we enjoy in life, and then we have grace. This gives the whole thing the meaning it’s supposed to have, at least for me.
Not to mention this is the best time to find out what everyone’s current interests and needs are so we can go Christmas shopping for them.
Some of the younger members of the family go out later for Black Friday. Their area, unlike ours, has the stores that do it. While they prepare to shop, we go home, to mostly shop online some other time.
So that’s how Thanksgiving was and is for me. It’s been a crawl towards having meaning in the holiday, but it turned out pretty well. Apologies to the many who enjoy football as much as I do homemade music and trivia games. What’s special about Thanksgiving for you?