The first Thanksgiving my family owned a video camera, was 1985, I think. Before the days of iMovie and personal video editing, my dad liked the idea of leaving the camera on the kitchen counter to capture the day as it unfolded. My mom scurried around, checking her list of meal elements to be sure that everything was going to have a synchronized finishing time. Those were the days when children were still supposed to be presentable at a holiday meal and so, the camera captured a tantrum my six-year-old self threw that involved me rolling on the ground and moaning over being told I had to wear school shoes on a day that had no school. For the record, I didn’t win, but I got over it. Twenty minutes later, guests began to arrive and as sweet as syrup, I presented each with a Thanksgiving picture I had colored for them. A people-pleaser who very much wants what she wants still lives in my body, but hopefully, I don’t often display those qualities as clearly as I did that Thanksgiving. The relatives who were always late were late that day. My mother stressed. The loud, bombastic grandfather who would only have one more Thanksgiving with us before Jesus welcomed him Home, wondered at the mystery of a personal video camera that could capture all the day’s events.
I am tempted to say that each holiday is my favorite when it comes around on the calendar. So many memories fill my heart as I am fortunate to have grown within a family who knew the value of tradition. What I love about Thanksgiving is the lack of fuss. It is just a meal and time with family. Not too much hype. No gifts to find and wrap. Not a lot of extra school or church events. Thanksgiving, unlike other holidays probably looks much like it did a century ago when times were simpler.
“What is it about?” a British friend asked me. “Do you give gifts at the big dinner?”
“No, it is just a relaxing day where you focus on what you are thankful for and you eat a traditional meal with your family.” I replied.
“Sounds lovely,” she smiled, but gave me a look that said, “Why would you need do to that a month before Christmas?”
I mentioned celebrating it this week to my neighbor and she asked if we would be hanging out an American flag. I laughed and told her:
“Thanksgiving isn’t about being American, it is about being grateful.” (By the way, we have never hung out an American flag in England!) However, I must admit after experiencing immigration personally, my respect for those original pilgrims is through the roof. I may live with culture stress and miss my loved ones, but I haven’t had to brave a New England winter in a hut! That truly is the definition of the American spirit. I too would have thrown a party over harvest after making it through that first year w!
When we lived in the States, our family used to travel to Texas to celebrate with my husband’s family each year. This trip was a rare time for me personally as the pressure was off. I was far from home, so I might help with the meal, but it wasn’t my responsibility. As church planters, our calling carries a lot of 24/7 responsibility, but not at Thanksgiving in TX; it felt like a little oasis within our calendar year. Therein lies the beauty of Thanksgiving: it is a timeout to pause, take stock of what the proceeding year has meant, and thank God He has brought us thus far.
This will be our third Thanksgiving in the UK. It is strange celebrating this holiday in a land that doesn’t have it. The fourth Thursday in November is just another day here. We keep our kids home from school on the grounds of a “religious holiday.” (We are not brazen enough to pull that on the 4th of July as school goes well into summer!) Last Thanksgiving, we had precious friends over and it was lovely to share our tradition with them. This year, we are on lockdown and it will just be the 6 of us.
Not knowing when we will see extended family again because of this wretched pandemic is a grief that sits in my throat every day. In a lot of ways, that could ruin this Thursday for us. We could be miserable because not only does it not feel like a holiday as people carry on like any other day outside our door, we cannot even dream of gathering with people we miss and love. Maybe celebrating Thanksgiving this year is a bit more about being American than it has ever been before. Like those brave Pilgrims and other early pioneers, we recognize the need to intentionally take a day to focus not on the extraordinary hard of this past year, but on that which is in front of us for which we can thank God. I am thankful I will be with my husband and my four children; my dearest ones. We know the secret to perseverance is recounting God’s faithfulness and this nuclear family of mine has a rich history of seeing God come through. We will have delicious food to enjoy. We will take stock of the goodness there has been in 2020. We will thank God for carrying us thus far.
Since we began celebrating Thanksgiving in England, my husband recites this prayer before we eat:
“In celebrating this feast, we declare that evil and death, suffering and loss, sorrow and tears will not have the final word.” Every Moment Holy by McKelvey Douglas
His voice has caught in the previous years and this year we both might cry, but only because we believe it with all of our hearts.