Compared to most holidays, American Thanksgiving has stayed true to its original intent. By the millions, Americans travel to be with other family members. Those of us who are not near family—orphans—gather together to partake in a meal with friends. Unlike holidays such as Labor Day or Memorial Day, Thanksgiving maintains a connection to the concept of its founding in by President. Many have argued that Thanksgiving is the close as we get to a national holiday, here in America. And, in some ways it serves resembles a country-wide Seder, the family-centric, ritualized meal hosted in honor of Jewish Passover. Indeed, in an interesting little book The Thanksgiving Ceremony: New Traditions for America’s Family Feast, Edward Bleier offers up a similarly choreographed script to provide a concrete framework to honor the holiday.
The recognition of this holiday reminds me that we often overlook the sacred nature of food-sharing throughout the year. From time-to-time, I come across individuals or a family, usually those with robust religious & spiritual lives, that say “grace” at mealtime. I will never forget attending dinner with my childhood friend Anita, one of 10 children of Roman Catholic parents. I was amazed, amused, and a little frightened as they made the Sign of the Cross in highly synchronized fashion following the mealtime prayer.
Sociologists and others argue that there are a great many benefits associated with family togetherness at mealtime. I would add that pausing for a moment to say thanks for the gifts of nourishment is also useful for young and old, alike. There are so many who have written lyrically about the mystical, spiritual aspects of food preparation and eating together. I choose only one for illustrative purposes. This comes from the great writer Robert Fulghum, famous for his life handbook All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. In From Beginning to End he explains:
“Since the beginning of time, people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship. When attention is paid to this sharing, it takes on a ritual character. The nurturing of the body becomes a metaphor of the mutual nourishing of lives. Every time we hold hands and say a blessing before a mean, every time we lift a glass and say fine words to one another, every time we eat in peace and grace together we have celebrated the covenants that bind us.”
And so, this Thanksgiving, my partner and I, distanced from those to whom we are related, joined others at the home of a mutual and gracious friend to share Thanksgiving dinner. It was an inter-generational collection of people, tied together by our generous hostess. I very much appreciated her willingness to bring us to her common table. I brought with me a small token of my appreciation, a copy of a favorite book A Grateful Heart: Daily Blessings for the Evening Meal from Buddha to the Beatles, edited by M.J. Ryan. It is a fun and inspiring catalog of mealtime remembrances of the sacred nature of shared food. I hope my friend will think of our Thanksgiving celebration as she may select words from the volume, throughout the year.