Thanksgiving understood 2014.11.26


My mother always has an idea for me to write about. This week’s hot tip was to write about the real meaning of Thanksgiving. I don't know what the real meaning of Thanksgiving is.

In elementary school we all dressed up like Pilgrims and Indians and ate a feast. That must have something to do with it, but we kind of ignored that whole “genocide against American Indians” thing. The one where those early settlers went on to massacre those Indians and take their land against their will over a period of a couple hundred years, but we do remember that time they ate dinner together. My mom also doesn’t like when I write about serious things. Sorry, mom. 

I’m sure I could research the “real” meaning of Thanksgiving, but that seems really boring. Instead, I’ll just go by my own personal experiences to explain the “real” meaning of Thanksgiving. I’ve had a quarter century of them, so I'm pretty much an expert anyway.

As a child, every year on the fourth Thursday in November, I would go to my grandparents’ house. All of my aunts, uncles and cousins would be there. The adult females passive-aggressively work to prepare an extravagant meal. The adult males watch television and share boring tales of the good ol’ days.

I would be encouraged to play with my cousins that I have almost nothing in common with. Then, everyone would eat turkey until they feel sick. An hour later, the pumpkin pie would be served. Everyone would give hugs and say goodbye, but no presents are exchanged. This was a strange and confusing, but mostly joyful yearly ritual. 

By the time I was a teenager it was mostly routine. We would go to either my mom’s or dad’s parents’ house, sometimes both. We would see those same aunts, uncles and cousins, just older versions of them. Adult females cook, adult males talk about the weather, hunting, football, work, and tell the same tired good ol’ day stories. Everyone eats turkey until they feel sick, and an hour later pumpkin pie is served. Hugs, goodbyes....whatever. It's just something you do every year and think nothing of. 

Unfortunately, what I didn't realize then is that just because something is routine doesn’t mean it always will be. My cousin, Michael, passed away in a hunting accident in 2004. My maternal grandmother, we called her Boom or Boom-ba (my cousin, John, pronounced grandma funny as a tot), passed away in 2011. My paternal grandfather, Gramps, passed away in 2013. My father's side of the family has grown apart over the years. Petty arguments festered into stubborn grudges, and we don’t all celebrate Thanksgiving together anymore. 

I do wish we could all be together, but I’ve learned that Thanksgiving is about appreciating what you do have, not lamenting what you don’t. I miss Michael, Boom, and Gramps, but I am also very thankful that we had all those years together, even if I didn’t fully appreciate them at the time. 

Thanksgiving is about both change and tradition. I am blessed that I will be able to spend it this year with my wife, kids, parents, sister and paternal grandmother. We will definitely still eat way too much turkey, but that boring grown-up talk isn’t so boring to me anymore. I’ve learned that there isn’t a guarantee who will be there for next year’s family get-together. I’m looking forward to the good ol’ day stories, and even have a few of my own to share. We have also decided to mix things up a little bit with my father and I deep-frying the turkey. That will surely provide its own stories for Thanksgivings yet to come. 

I still don’t know what the original “real” meaning of Thanksgiving is. To me the “real” meaning is to be thankful to God for another year of life and another chance to cherish time with the ones you love. Thanksgiving is one of the only days of the year where all the trivial worries of day-to-day life can be put aside and we can appreciate and remember the things that really matter: Remembering my grandpa's funny sayings, appreciating the pitter-patter of little feet running around, and holding on for an extra second during those hugs as you say goodbye. The turkey and pumpkin pie isn’t so bad, either.