Thanksgiving is an odd day in many respects. It’s a day that’s tied into both a religious and national history, and yet isn’t considered a holy day or particularly patriotic. It’s a cultural celebration that stands on its own, independent of beliefs, where one gathers together with friends and family for a special meal.
Harvest festivals and banquets aren’t unique to the United States or Canada, but the idea of it being tied to “giving thanks” is rarer in the world. Actually naming the banquet after being grateful? That’s something a bit different.
That meal matters. There’s something about the sharing of food, whether out of plenty or during struggle, that brings us together. If that idea sounds worth exploring, I highly recommend reading The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature, by Leon Kass. If it sounds strange to say that a book on the philosophy of eating and table manners is actually an interesting read, then you might want to take a look at the book. You could be surprised.
The meal is a shared experience, as we enjoy a shared activity and each other’s company. Eating food is a primal drive; eating food with ceremony is a civilized trait. Eating food with ceremony, in the company of loved ones, while being encouraged to reflect on weighty matters like what makes one happy and how we can do even better on what really matters? This is what elevates Thanksgiving from merely a vestigial harvest tradition.
We get most of our hits from English-speaking countries, but we get quite a few from others as well, something I love to see. (South Korea, Germany, Brazil . . . I’m lookin’ at you, kids, and so very many more.) The vast majority of our audience already knows what Thanksgiving is, but many of you don’t, and it’s worth explaining why it’s special.
It fills a niche in our society in a time when a vocal and frankly nasty portion of the population make it difficult, if not impossible, to celebrate either religion or patriotism. It’s a day that’s not about either, yet is firmly rooted in both. To give thanks, there must be someone to thank, including for intangibles; and as the family is the smallest segment of society, celebrating it is to return to and reflect on what society should be.
Of course, the pass around the table where everyone describes what they’re thankful for is a chore. It’s not just a Scrooge, Grinch, or Grumpy Cat kind of person who objects, but the stress of not wanting to appear like one of those fictional icons adds to the unhappiness of complying with that particular tradition. You’re put on the spot, and you worry about trying to sum up what you might be grateful for, and whether your family will think your list is inadequate. And what happens when someone else mentions the same thing you wanted to say first?
My family has left that by the wayside, where it belongs. It doesn’t mean we don’t talk about what we’re grateful for; it just means we don’t make it an obligation. We have no special time set aside for it. We just let it all come out naturally in our conversations; and if we don’t vocalize all that which we are thankful for, well, what living human can really do that, even given the whole day to read the list?
There are many things to be grateful for in our lives, from the common food-and-shelter topics to things much more personal and unique. Listing them all is difficult. Reflecting on them is easier. That’s what Thanksgiving is to my family, and definitely to me.
I don’t need a list, and I know some people don’t need to hear it. Some of my loved ones are actively uncomfortable with being singled out, even in private. That’s fine. I have trouble taking a compliment too.
But there are two groups I’d like to single out here, on this website. The first is the six other Catholic Geek authors who joined me on this venture: Lori, Declan, Andy, Ross, Olivia, and Karina. I know some of you have had life happen, and haven’t been updating with much, but I’m very glad that you decided this idea I had was worth pursuing.
And the second is you, the Catholic Geek audience. Without you, we’d be voices crying out in the wilderness. I love watching your clicks and shares and the search terms you use to find us, because that means we’re providing something for you that you can’t get anywhere else. We matter to you, and you matter to us.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.