The Strange Case of the Disappearing Holiday

It’s November 26th, the day before Thanksgiving, but it already feels like Christmas. Walking past the shops on main street today, I passed Christmas trees, red and green decorations, and white lights. The Salvation Army has a wall devoted to Christmas decorations, ready to take home immediately. The wine shop has a vast tree with golden ornaments: you can sign up to win the window. Wreaths of evergreen branches and red velvet began appearing several weeks ago on doors and windows. It’s all quite pretty, but this visible preparation for Christmas unceremoniously pushes aside another holiday, one of my favorite holidays: Thanksgiving.

Why do I love Thanksgiving? I must confess that I love eating, and I tend to eat like a perpetual teenager: ready to ravage a tasty casserole or a roast (vegetarian, of course) at any time.   And Thanksgiving foods are so pleasantly varied: there’s the starchiness of mashed potatoes, the tartness of cranberries, the richness of sweet potatoes, the creamy saltiness of gravy. And as a lover of desserts, Thanksgiving is a very good time. Many people scoff at pumpkin pie, but I could eat it year-round, particular with a bit of fresh cream on top, and I love any kind of berry pie, the freshness of the fruit set off by a buttery crust moistened by the melting mass of ice-cream, small flecks of vanilla beans coating the sides of the bowl.

And despite the work of buying or harvesting food and then cooking and cleaning, it’s a relatively low impact holiday. There’s not that much advance planning on the whole, and while the cost of food, especially as the menu grows longer or more exotic, can be a bit of a shock, when a number of people share the work and costs it’s not too bad. Unlike Christmas, which can be financially daunting with the cost of multiple gifts for growing families and increasing expectations of ever-more innovative and intriguing cards, presents, and outings, Thanksgiving requires relatively little exercise of the credit card or frenzied trips from store to store, most teeming with similarly harried gift-buyers.

Instead, Thanksgiving requires, at its root, only one thing: to be thankful. In the past, that’s meant getting together with family and being thankful for this group of chatty, jokey, quirky people with whom I’ve grown and aged. Sometimes I’ve been far from my family, and I’ve been thankful for friends, old and new, who’ve welcomed me into their homes, modest or grand, sometimes for a simple meal or for a lavish feast, in groups as small as two or three or around a table as crowed as that famous Norman Rockwell painting from the series The Four Freedoms, titled Freedom from Want (1943).

It’s a holiday about filling oneself, whether with food, with talk, with music and dance, or with the beauty of nature as one walks under the newly-stark shapes of the trees, fading leaves swirling around one’s feet, the sun warming as the wind cools and the year moving slowly, gracefully, quietly towards its close.

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