South

Beverly Beckham

Give thanks for this old-fashioned holiday

Portrait of affectionate family by Thanksgiving table
Thanksgiving deserves our full attention for at least one whole day.

Inside my house, it is still Halloween. A giant bat hangs over the sliding glass door. Scary Man, laden with chains, shrieks in the hall. The kitchen witch cackles whenever a dish is clanked or someone bumps into her.

Outside my house, Halloween was over weeks before it arrived. Christmas pushed it aside in the middle of October, wreaths and Santas and holiday deals dwarfing pumpkins and ghouls and candy corn. There was Christmas music in all the stores, Christmas ads on TV, Deck the Halls before the leaves fell, even before the first hint of frost.

Now comes Thanksgiving in between these two behemoths, the middle child, increasingly upstaged by her more flamboyant siblings. How can Thanksgiving continue to compete with these two giants?

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It can’t.

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Thanksgiving is an old-fashioned holiday. It’s sitting around a table and taking the time to share a meal and tell stories. It’s celebrating what we have instead of focusing on what we lack. It’s Over the River and Through the Woods. Still. Our moral compass, our North Star.

Be grateful. That’s all Thanksgiving says. It hasn’t joined in the chorus of “Buy! Buy! Buy!” presents or costumes or flowers to prove to someone your love. It hasn’t reinvented itself every few decades to keep up with the times. It hasn’t changed its message, which is the same as it was last year, five years ago, 50 years ago. The same as it has always been. Give thanks.

Thanksgiving has not changed.

But we have.

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We’re busy people. In a hurry. We’re needy people. Always wanting more. We seldom sit down for meals, unless we’re at a restaurant. Unless someone orders takeout. We eat on the run. We live on the run.

Thanksgiving forces us to stop and sit down.

Back in the day when people, mostly women, cooked every day, two, three times a day, real meals, not out of a box or a can meals, making Thanksgiving dinner was simple. As Katherine, my across-the-street neighbor, once put it, “You throw a turkey in the oven and mash some potatoes. How difficult is that?”

Not difficult at all. Back in the day.

But now? It’s a Herculean effort because who cooks a turkey more than once a year, and when you don’t do something regularly, chances are you don’t do it well. Which is why a lot of us buy prepared foods. And pour a lot of wine. Which is why this year, in my house, we’re not having turkey. We’re having the food we’re most thankful for. “Bring what you love,” we’re calling it. No one loves turkey. We love buffalo chicken dip. And pecan pie. And macaroni and cheese. And meatballs. And chili. And fudge. So we’ll eat these things because food is not the real focus of Thanksgiving anyway. In pictures, yes. You look at pictures and think that Thanksgiving is all about the food. And though it’s the food that brings us together, that draws us to the table, it’s for family and friends that we gather.

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Once a year, all across the country, we gather, and we talk and laugh and argue and remember and toast and count our many blessings.

And then, in the middle of this revelry, in the middle of conversations and cameraderie, this party’s over and a new one’s begun, Christmas hip checking Thanksgiving right out of the room, because the holiday sales have begun.

It’s a single day. Once a year. A humble day. Be grateful, Thanksgiving says. That’s all it says. But shouting over this, drowning this out, is “Black Friday blowouts!’” “Give the gift of style!” “Save 30, 50, 100 percent!” “Hurry! Sale ends soon!”

Wouldn’t it be nice to stay in the moment for more than a few hours, to remain focused on all we have and not all we want? To give this undervalued middle child our full attention for one whole day?

Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at bevbeckham@gmail.com.