not sure I’ve ever bought anything at Nordstrom’s in my life,
and I’m not sure I ever will, but I have to say that I was
more inclined to consider it than I can remember when I read
their recent little statement about “celebrating one holiday
at a time” and opting out of the great rush to Christmas decorations
until after Thanksgiving.
That’s partly because I enjoy the winter holiday season best
when it’s confined in its proper bounds instead of spreading
over a full sixth of the year as it seems bent on doing.
It’s also because I actually like Thanksgiving, entirely apart
from being the gun that starts the rest of the hullabaloo
(as I’ve noted before, I stick to advent for that, not for
Catholic reasons particularly, but at least partly to give
Thanksgiving a little space).
Thanksgiving has a hard time. It gets swallowed in plans for
and expectations of the day after. Retail-wise, it only generates
extra sales of food and turkey roasting pans and napkins.
Because we have an expectation of “spending it with family,”
it means many of us are trying to juggle the logistics of
getting large families together twice in the space of a month,
or divvying up “your folks Thanksgiving, mine Christmas/ Hanukkah”
over and over and sometimes grousing about the one that sneaks
up on us when we’re not ready for such things yet.
History-wise, many of us have, if not as many qualms as we
do with Columbus Day, some definite problems with the way
the stories are generally told. The idea of friendship and
cooperation between peoples is great, if we didn’t know how
disastrously and persistently one-sided it ended up being.
I recently had to walk away from the “Story of the Mayflower”
bonus track on Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving DVD for fear of
pulling all my hair out over the references to “that vast
empty land” and the like. Although the part where Puritans
ran into Native Americans in the woods, and then when the
latter ran away said “Huh, maybe we shouldn’t point our guns
at them,” was funny in an “ouch” kind of way.
On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to recast Thanksgiving
to a simple harvest and giving-thanks holiday. Certainly for
legions of us who recast the winter holidays every year into
secular celebrations of the season, innocence, overcoming
fear, and returning light, stepping away from the grade-school
Thanksgiving narrative is a piece of cake. It’s pretty wonderful,
in fact, to have a secular national holiday that is even nominally
as humble as Thanksgiving is, absent the rah-rah bluster of
the Fourth of July or complicated issues about military involvement.
Seeing “gratitude” statements spread on social media in the
days leading up to it has even given it a feeling of a season
of its own that extends beyond the usual grocery shopping-cooking-traveling
frenzy that started last weekend.
Being the tradition-fond person that I am, one of the small
things I’ve grown thankful for over the past few years is
the meal itself. It’s incredibly adaptable and inclusive.
We’re going to have several people at our feast this year
with impressive lists of allergies or foods they’re avoiding,
and though there are certainly some changes that have to be
made (dairy-free mashed potatoes, a gluten-free stuffing option)
and some dishes that can’t be adapted, it’s surprisingly easy
to have most things on the traditional roster be edible by
Even for vegetarians, as long as you add in some sort of alternate
protein source and have someone who knows how to make vegetarian
gravy (admittedly, rarer than they should be), the very fact
that the traditional meal has a huge number of substantial
vegetable-based side dishes means it’s far more welcoming
than, say, a traditional barbecue. (It’s true that I’ve kind
of forgotten that lentil-spinach-feta casserole isn’t a traditional
Thanksgiving dish. We kept it even when we went back to eating
On top of all that (or perhaps related to it?), being based
in the local cuisine of our area, it’s an incredibly easy
meal to go “local” on if that’s something you have been working
It’s been a hard year for many of us, on many fronts. I think
it’s a little too simplistic to tell people to “be grateful
for the hard times because that’s when you grow,” even though
it’s often true. Sometimes the proper response to hard times
is something else—anger, grief, determination. But for myself,
I am grateful for the seasonal reminder to be graciously grateful
when it is warranted—whether for the greens that kept growing
when I flaked out on watering and weeding them or the understanding
support of a friend when facing a decision with no particularly