Having just celebrated our unique national holiday of Thanksgiving, I thought it might be appropriate to explore the meaning of the word by which it is called. Merriam-Webster.com defines Thanksgiving as: “a prayer that expresses thanks to God.” Yet I wonder how many actually have that in mind when they envision the holiday itself and what it represents to them? It would appear that most think of it as: (a) a day off with pay; (b) the day before Black Friday (the biggest shopping day of the year; (c) an opportunity to watch an NFL game on a weekday; or (d) the one day when Bacchanalian food consumption is not only approved of, but actually encouraged. For me, however, Thanksgiving’s meaning has not been as narrowly defined, but rather has evolved in a convoluted fashion over a 70-year timespan.
For the first ten years of my life, growing up in the federal housing projects in Brooklyn, New York, Thanksgiving meant a chance to have such treats as black olives and apple cider—along with the traditional turkey and all the trimmings. Ours was not a family of means, so those “delicacies” were only available to us on that one unique day each year. My brother and I didn’t care where the special food items came from, but we were thankful for them.
When we moved to suburban New Jersey, that first Thanksgiving in our new home was a chance to celebrate our “escape” from the city. We knew who had made it happen (our dad and our mom), and we were thankful to them for the hard work and sacrifices they had made in order to make it possible. Our bounty grew with each passing year, again, thanks to our parents.
Later on, when I attended college in Kentucky, my first Thanksgiving there represented an opportunity to join my roommate and his family for a rural version of the holiday—my first away from home. Spending several days on a subsistence farm made me thankful for many things, especially running water, central heat, and an indoor toilet, none of which were available to my friend and his family.
Marriage (my first) gave new meaning to the holiday. Now I had a wife to be thankful for, and two families with which to share Thanksgiving. However, along with a second set of relatives came the responsibility of having to make a painful decision each year as to which set I would spend the day with. For that, I was not thankful.
With the birth of my two children, the meaning of the holiday changed once again. For the first time in my life, there was no doubt to Whom I was thankful; I was thankful to God—for the most wonderful gift of all, my two sons. However, having to choose which family I would spend the holiday with became even more difficult. Eventually, after ten years of marriage, there came a divorce. But, four days after the divorce was final, I met my present wife, and exactly six weeks, two days later, we were married (and we still are, more than 34 years later). I was blessed with another extended family, including two stepchildren (a boy and a girl) and even more reasons to be thankful. And that is how it remained—until the birth of my first grandchild in November of 2014, just prior to (drum roll, please) THANKSGIVING! That’s when the level of my thankfulness made a quantum leap higher.
The final transformation of Thanksgiving’s meaning to me was a bit more complex, and began on October 2nd of this year (if you follow my blog regularly, you know that that is the day I had my stroke). I had always known that I would die someday, but as I lay in that hospital bed that first night, the inevitability of that occurrence was etched indelibly into my consciousness. For the first time in my life, I didn’t know if there would even be another day, let alone another Thanksgiving. When I awoke the following morning, I thanked God for the breath in my body—and I’ve tried to remember to thank Him every day since.
So when this year’s holiday rolled around, its meaning was quite clear to me, and I had no difficulty in knowing what to do. I did what we should all do, each and every day of our lives. I said a prayer that expressed my thanks to God for my wife, for my children (all four), for my granddaughter, for the roof over my head, for the food on my table, and, most importantly, for my very life. You see, every day is Thanksgiving Day—or, at least it should be—because, if you think about it, we are all blessed in so many wonderful ways that we shouldn’t need a special holiday to express our gratitude.
Happy belated Thanksgiving, Y’all!
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