Thoughts on Thanksgiving

When I was young, we would always set the Thanksgiving table with three pieces of candy corn on each plate.  The tradition was that, at the beginning of the meal, everyone would go around and share with the group three things we are grateful for, eating a piece of candy corn with each one.  Whenever it was my turn, being the cynical punk that I was, I would say I am thankful for food, water, and air because I need those to survive, DUH!  That being said, I wonder if I ever really understood what Thanksgiving was about.  When I was a child, I did childish things.  Having spent time now in another country, I think I can better relate to the pilgrims.  I wonder if I have a better understanding of Thanksgiving now that it is once again my turn to share.  Here’s a kernel of my thoughts.

I used to think Thanksgiving was about the past, remembering the traditions of before, thinking about nice things that have happened.  I wonder if it is not about just the past, but the present and the future, too, all seen from this ephemeral moment.  Thanksgiving is a time to sit and watch not football, but the glories and tragedies of what is, was, and will be.  There are definitely things I miss from the states, like normal, old American cheese.  There are also things I will miss in the future, like the wide variety of fancy French cheeses.  So, I wonder if Thanksgiving is about taking a day to remember and enjoy these lovely things, because nobody knows when you will–or won’t–get to have them again!  Thanksgiving is about more than being grateful, I think, but about truly appreciating something’s precious existence.  Thanksgiving was the merging of new American Indian food and old english food.  It’s not just about remembering the past, but also about looking to the future.  Some might say the only time you truly appreciate something is when it is taken away, and I think immigrants understand that more than anybody else.  To keep it simple, yes, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks.  That being said, I wonder if truly giving thanks is a lot harder than it would appear, and that is why we devote a holiday to it.

When I was young, Thanksgiving was my least favorite holiday.  A month before it, I got to dress up and parade around town for free candy, and a month later I would get to take a few weeks off from school and get presents.  All Thanksgiving has to offer is a few days’ break and the chance to eat the same not particularly special food for a week or two.  Thanksgiving was doomed to be disliked in shadow of those giants, Halloween and Christmas.  That being said, this year I am tremendously excited for Thanksgiving.  That unastounding food, as well as the holiday in general, have taken on new meaning for me.  I have an aunt here in Paris, and she is known for her obsession with Thanksgiving.  Where that once weirded me out, I now understand, and feel, the same mania.  I once only needed three pieces of candy corn to be grateful for three smart aleckey things.  I now need more than a plate of candy corn, nostalgic for the past, excited about the future, and enjoying the melancholic view from the present.  Thank you for reading!

— Ray Graetz

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