I grew up in a fairly traditional family in which we gathered for thanksgiving each year, saying prayers of thanks with fingers entwined. For us, Thanksgiving was a time of gathering the tribe, of being thankful no matter what, and of celebrating the rich heritage of family recipes and ways of nourishing in our lineage.
Friends without a home to go to have been welcome at our table. Over the years and through my travels, I have sometimes been that person without family nearby. Other thanksgivings, I have been asked to "choose" between families. I have spent some thanksgiving days zooming from house to house, trying to make it work. I have been ill on thanksgiving, and I have also been the one holding and comforting others.
I have been filled for longing for all that is not on the table. And I have, on some occasions, looked around and felt the loss of people who had died, or could not be present, or whom I had chosen not to invite for some reason or other.
It only took me about 20 years to figure out that the format for celebrating one day--and not even the traditional harvest day--just doesn't work for me. As my family has grown, shrunk, and grown in new ways, I have been forced to question what family really is, how we gather, when, and why. I have seen so many family members get stressed about not being able to make "that moment" happen on thanksgiving.
In fact, it is not about the moment, but if there is already love and community present within our family dynamic that year, then that celebratory day becomes a crowning glory of that achievement. If the bonds of communication and support are there, then that one day is most definitely joyful and memorable . . .but then it also doesn't make much difference in the family dynamic over the long term, because the gathering has already become a way of life. Thus, stressing over making "that day" happen in some preconceived way is actually counter-productive and counter-intuitive.
In the Ancient Egyptian calendar there are so many "holy days" that one could virtually celebrate something every day. I love bringing this approach to the values for our own family thanksgiving. I have been trying to think of every day this November as Thanksgiving. What a change! I have used the opportunity to look more closely at how I relate to my family, and to review my prioritization of values.
This year I am doing a very small dinner in my home, but I hope to reach out to as many family members as possible over the next few weeks to share stories, listen to madness, and keep alive the breath of our relationships. Some of my dearest ones who are very far away, or with whom I have fallen out of contact and can not reach, I will send my love through prayer.
Each day we live is holy. Each day is a holiday. Any holiday can become a stress point if we become so caught up in the pageantry that we forget the core spirit of what we are celebrating. Every family has a different set of values for what this holiday means.
I feel myself returning to the spirit of listening and connection. I feel clumsy and embarassed saying so, because I am so aware of the many ways I could be so much better at listening and connecting to my family. I try not to judge myself. I try to just observe it with my breath, and wade into the waters of healing and transformation around those themes of listening and connecting.
This Thanksgiving, I will not cook every food in the family cookbook. I will feel
very fortunate if I am able to cook one dish and share it in the spirit of deep gratitude for the many hands who have made this food before me, and the many hearts gathering to eat together. For me, this is the embodiment of listening and connection, not only to myself and my loved ones, but to the host of ancestors and the earth's bounty on which I stand. I am so thankful for these blessings.
healing & love,