As Thanksgiving has been approaching, I’ve been at odds with some contrasting feelings I’ve been having about it. On the one hand, I love food; eating it, cooking it, and baking it, so this time of year I look forward to making all my favorite dishes and sharing them with my family as we get together to give thanks. On the other hand, I’ve been a little annoyed that Thanksgiving has become SO focused on FOOD. There are nearly 50 million people living in “food insecure” households in our country alone, who have little food to be thankful for, yet those of us who are more fortunate are consuming about 3,600 calories per person at the Thanksgiving table, according to a report by The Today Show. It also bothers me that this has become yet another holiday falling prey to the beast called commercialization. So, what’s a girl to do? Stop raining on the parade and bake up a storm or donate all my food to the poor and boycott all the sell out brands?
Call me a party pooper, but lately I’ve been wondering when and how Thanksgiving became so focused on food. If you watch Food Network for a bit you might think they created this holiday as an advertising opportunity for all the companies marketing their marshmallows for our sweet potato casserole, french fried onions for our green beans and whipped cream to top our pumpkin pie. I’ve actually seen them do a live day-long Q&A session to answer questions like “Why is my turkey dry?,” sponsored by Perdue or something, of course. They even feature a “Countdown to Thanksgiving” e-newsletter where they send you updates EVERY day in November helping you prepare. Yesterday I saw a car commercial with a live turkey waddling around saying “Gobble, Gobble.” And I’ve lost count of the number of emails from clothing stores I got this month titled “Gobble Up the Savings!” or something. Now as a former advertising executive, I get it. They’re not going to sell many cars if their ad says, “We are thankful this holiday, come give us your money.” And as my husband says, “Everyone deserves to make money.” But it seems like some are trying to do to Thankgiving what they’ve done to Christmas, hijacking another holiday into a marketing opportunity. One of the reasons I have always loved Thanksgiving is because it is not about buying presents. But I fear that before long, we will be feeling like we need to do that on Thanksgiving too. Ironically, my husband and his family’s 100+ year-old wholesale produce company relies heavily on holiday’s like Thanksgiving. He told me they sold 7,000 boxes of sweet potatoes, each about 40 pounds, this week alone! They are in the food business and even they aren’t selling out with stupid “Gobble Up the Savings” ads. Not to mention, they’ve probably donated just as many boxes of produce to the Cleveland Foodbank, as they’ve sold.
We all learned in school that this holiday is about gathering together to remember the “First Thanksgiving” in 1621 that was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World and the feast they shared with the Native Americans. Thanksgiving became an official Federal holiday in 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” But at some point over the last century and a half, this holiday that is supposed to be about thanking, giving and sharing has now been dubbed “Turkey Day” by some. From what I’ve read from the letter written by Edward Winslow, the Pilgrim who documented the “First Thanksgiving,” the Pilgrims didn’t even eat turkey that day. And they likely didn’t eat sweet potatoes, or cranberries as they weren’t native to that part of the country. Instead they ate duck or goose, corn, carrots and peas as well as barley. The poor turkey has gotten a raw deal. Thanksgiving has transformed for too many, from praising God and giving thanks for the harvest and the blessings in our lives to eating until we feel sick to our stomachs and watching a Turkey cluck around a TV screen selling cars while we watch the Macy’s parade. It annoys me that all that was once sacred is now another example of a commercialized advertising opportunity.
What I’m most at odds with is this. It’s a wonderful feast full of thankfulness for those of us who are fortunate enough to have one, but I can’t help but feel that this holiday is also a reminder to the people who don’t have as much, what they don’t have. Like the children who won’t eat that day because there is no school and that is often the only place they get a meal. One in five children in America struggles with hunger, according to the No Kid Hungry organization. Yes, it gives most of us cause to be very thankful and fortunate to know that WE don’t struggle with hunger. I am very THANKful every day that my husband has been blessed with a stable job so that we may feed our children and sleep in warm beds. But, let us not forget the GIVE in Thanksgiving. And turn compassion into action.
When I think about those statistics and the families who are thankful to be eating a meal in a shelter on Thanksgiving, I can’t help but wonder. Are we all overdoing it just a little? Isn’t 3,600 calories per person for one meal a little excessive? Do we really need the green beans AND the brussels sprouts, the mashed potatoes AND the sweet potatoes, the salad AND the jello salad? Did I really need to make both a pecan pie AND a pumpkin roll? No Kid Hungry says the average cost of one Thanksgiving dinner is $49. That’s a lot! Is slaving in the kitchen the whole day and even days before, planning a menu weeks before really what Thanksgiving was supposed to be about? Not to mention the shopping trips and washing the china, polishing the silver, stressing about our house being tidy for guests. All to eat for about 20 minutes and then spend another hour or two cleaning up while we feel a little sick from overeating. And did I really need to go to spin class and run the Turkey Trot last Thanksgiving in order to burn off extra calories so I could binge eat? Where is the THANKS in that. Or could some of the time, energy and money spent on some of those things be better spent. Better spent in donations to the poor, better spent helping in our community or better spent just taking a walk with our family to talk instead of having our heads buried in the oven all day. There is a fine line between being gracious and being gluttonous, one of the seven deadly sins.
That said, I think we are all pretty good at the THANKS part. Each year at Thanksgiving, our family goes around the table and each person says what they are thankful for. I’m sure many families have similar traditions. Children seem to get it too. I received an email from my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher yesterday with a list of all the things the children said they were thankful for. I was surprised by how heartfelt their answers were including things like, “the world, friends, nature, God, my little brother, and even food.” It makes my heart sing to know that five and six-year-old children are so thoughtful and wise. We have kept the “THANKS” in Thanksgiving. Let us not forget about the “GIVE” in Thanksgiving.
Am I suggesting we should all donate our food to the poor on Thursday or that we should sell our possessions and leave our jobs to volunteer at homeless shelters? That would be a little idealistic and unrealistic. But let us not forget on Thursday as we gather with our friends and family to make a meal, why the great Abraham Lincoln created this holiday to begin with, “to give thanksgiving and praise” to God. Let us be thankful, but let us also be giving. This day and every day. A friend of mine recently shared a quote online that said, “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” Give your gifts. The most important of which is love.
In church this week we were reminded to “be the body of Christ.” Here is a bit of Reverend Throckmorton’s sermon.
“If we’re Christ’s body, we are invited to convey Christ in all our words and deeds. Being Christ’s body has its genesis in all the little things we do and are for each other—the smile for someone we don’t know, the meal for someone who’s been sick, the cookies for the memorial service. And it has its full working out when all are finally fed. “Until all are fed we cry out! Until all on earth have bread. Like the One who loves us each and every one we serve until all are fed.” Today and every day it’s worth asking ourselves: what are we going to do to be the body of Christ? How are we going to feed the hungers that cry out? In what ways can we make justice come alive and make a difference? That’s our charge, because we are the body of Christ. When Jesus dwelt among us, he fed the hungers of people. He shared not only food, but his love and compassion as well. As Christ’s body, we too are called to feed and to love others.”
I think that message resonates no matter your religious beliefs. Give love and compassion. As I gather with my family at my sisters house on Thanksgiving, I will enjoy the traditions and I will give love to my loved ones through the delicious desserts I baked. My sister and her family will share their love in the feast they have prepared. But let us continue to give love and compassion every day until all are fed.
At the very least, let us PLEASE say “Happy Thanksgiving” instead of “Happy Turkey Day.”