Autumn is here, and already the glorious spate of festively colored leaves is beginning to fall, and the warm ocean breezes we love are steadily becoming a bit chill-inducing. But before the snows of winter, we have the heart-warming holiday of Thanksgiving.
Unless, we don’t.
For some of us, Thanksgiving is a tough holiday. For some people it’s as simple as “not everyone who lives alone is lonely.” Some people relish solitude and forcing them into a big dinner is supremely stress inducing. For others, noise pollution can be a real thing, and not all family gatherings are of the quiet type. And for still others, it’s not the gathering, it’s the getting there; the “99 miles of cheer down route one, the 99 miles of cheer,” rapidly turns to 99 miles of jeer—and that’s before you get to Milton!
And the list goes on. The truth is, for some people, the annual Thanksgiving family gathering can be torture.
And in the gay community, all too often the iconic images of some Norman Rockwell family were tragically shattered years ago.
But maybe celebrating is easier when we remember its birth as a holiday.
Yes, we all know, it was 400 years ago (!), 1621, when the Massachusetts Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast (something about which the current day Wampanoag have understandably mixed emotions). But that did not start the annual sharing of the turkey. (And, as a matter of record, it was even earlier, 1541, when Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and the Teya Indians held a feast in Palo Duro Canyon in Texas—just so you know.)
It was the year 1863 when in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. On October 3, 1863, Lincoln issued a proclamation calling on Americans to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving,” partly to celebrate the victory, but also to acknowledge the cost, of the Battle of Gettysburg.
So Thanksgiving as we know it, was—ironically, perhaps befittingly—forged in battle.
On November 20, 1916, Mrs. A.J. Wilder wrote a column for the Missouri Ruralist, a local newspaper. Most of us know Mrs. “A.J.” Wilder by her “own” name, Laura Ingalls (Wilder). In the column she noted the difficulties with the holiday by first telling a story about squabbling with her sister, Mary, over not wanting sage added to the dressing for the goose her “Pa” has gone out to get. As the argument intensified, Pa came home—without a goose.
“I remember saying in a meek voice to sister Mary, ‘I wish I had let you have the sage’ and to this day when I think of it I feel again just as I felt then and realize how thankful I would have been for roast goose and dressing with sage seasoning—with or without any seasoning—I could even have gotten along without the dressing. Just plain goose roasted would have been plenty good enough.”
And she continues reflecting, relating the story of a woman she knows: “‘I suppose I should be thankful for what we have, but I can’t feel very thankful when I have to pay $2.60 for a little flour and the price still going up,’” writes a friend, and in the same letter she says, ‘We are in our usual health.’ The family is so used to good health that it is not even taken into consideration as a cause of thanksgiving. We are so inclined to take for granted the blessings we possess and to look for something peculiar, some special good luck for which to be thankful.”
It has been 125 years since Laura Ingalls Wilder’s column. The price of flour continues to go up. And that we’re here to complain about it is a reason to be thankful.
We’ve been living in a pandemic, and thanks to science, and perhaps a bit of genetic fortune, we’re here to give thanks for our “usual health” this year.
So this year, let’s all take a moment and think…is our table really full, or is there someone we can invite who needs to know there’s one more seat available? Is there someone we know who maybe can’t enjoy the big meal, but who would love to come over the next day for some quality leftovers? Is there a reason to stay home alone and feel sad, or can family can be renewed, and if not, new ones made, around a dinner table?
Let’s remember as we pass the platter and count our blessings, that we are battle tested and thankful for each other, for family, and for community. ▼
Stefani Deoul is a television producer and author of the award-winning YA mystery series Sid Rubin Silicon Alley Adventures, with On a LARP, Zero Sum Game, and Say Her Name.
Photo by Debbie Hudson on Unsplash.