Sunday, November 18, 2007

Give Thanksgiving More Than the Bird ....

.... or maybe "Put the Thanks Back in Thanksgiving" or perhaps "The Most Important Ingredient"

I had a lot of alternate titles for this post so of course I had to pick the one I thought was the funniest .....

Seriously, so much is made of the food on Thanksgiving that I sometimes feel compelled to be a glutton or feel overly virtuous if I just eat normally. While my motto sometimes seems to be to leave no meal unexamined, in Thanksgiving's case it should refer to the event not (just) the food.

So while you plan the perfect menu (or diss your in-laws choices), shop and chop til you drop and debate if it really can be Thanksgiving with salmon instead of turkey or apple instead of pumpkin pie, spend a few minutes thinking about the feelings, meanings and lessons behind Thanksgiving.

I don't mean to get political, but if that is your bent, go for it. Don't make your guests uncomfortable (unless that is your bent, too, and you are trying to whittle down the guest list for next year), but think of something special to say for the day. Or maybe ask a guest to bring some discussion questions or thoughts or a special prayer or blessing (suitable for all the religious or non-religious traditions of the guests please) instead of a cranberry mold salad. Or ask every guest to be prepared to say a bit on why they are thankful or what their families' immigration experiences were or about random acts of kindness they either participated in or witnessed in the last year. Or focus on how far we have yet to come, ask them to bring one example or anecdote of what still needs to change for America to be a better place for all. Give them some guidelines or let them decide, but if you are looking for meaningful guest participation, let them know in advance.

Or make up a Thanksgiving trivia contest on the holiday, the Pilgrims, the Native Americans, etc., and focus on the real, not commercial, history of the day. (Winner gets the wishbone?)

I have been struck that how Thanksgiving is this big meal and celebration at home, much like the Jewish Passover. But unlike Passover, there are no scripts or readings designed to touch on the history, the symbols and the meaning of the day. A few days ago I heard an ad on radio from the American Jewish Committee. The ad tied the Pilgrim's celebration of Thanksgiving to the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. The organization also offered a (non-religious) "Thanksgiving reader" for Americans to share as they celebrate the holiday. The reader, called "America's Table: A Thanksgiving Reader Celebrating Our Diverse Roots and Shared Values" is available for free as a pdf download through the committee's website. Readers from past years are also available.

This year's version tells the stories of seven individuals of very different backgrounds and relates their American experiences. It is one way to tell the Thanksgiving story. Whether you use it or not, I hope you will be inspired to say more at Thanksgiving this year than "pass the gravy."

May you have a happy, meaningful (and, of course, tasty) Thanksgiving.

Blog Appetit hits the road tomorrow for its own Thanksgiving trek. More when I return.
Happy Thanksgiving.
About the photo: "Waiting for the Turkey," Thanksgiving table at my sister Laura's, 2005

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