The cold has settled in over Vermont, and a few days of flurries and squalls have covered much of the state in a blanket of white. The leaves are long gone, and Christmas tree farms across the state are putting out signs in preparation for choose and cut. This week, families packed up belongings, piled them in the family car or checked them into the airline luggage compartment, and traveled near and far to visit relatives. Many more will make the trek today, to a sister’s house, a brother’s house, mom and dad’s, or to a gathering of friends.
Supermarkets and grocery stores were packed early in the week, doing brisk business in canned pumpkin, stuffing mix and other fixings. Farmers markets found the same with produce and vegetables all going toward the Thanksgiving feast. Kitchens did double duty as gathering places and sweatshops, and public radio stations prepped for the cooking emergency call-in show.
For turkeys, it is a season of mourning.
For others, the day won’t be so full of family, warmth and food. Some of us will come in out of the cold for a meal at an Elks club or soup kitchen, and a brief respite from the bitter cold before returning to the street. Some families won’t have the means to pull together a meal, much less a harvest feast.
Across the globe, American service members will eat turkey and stuffing at a mess hall or cafeteria, a brief reminder of home during an extended deployment. Hospitals and police stations will be open, and ambulance crews will be at the ready. Many of us will put in a shift at work.
Yet all of us in one form or another will find a way to give thanks.
Thanksgiving’s origins, or at least the founding myth of this holiday, are well documented: European immigrants marked their gratefulness with a harvest feast in the early years after their arrival on these shores. They were joined in several cases by their guides, the local Native Americans, who trained these neophytes how to raise corn and catch local game. The Europeans were profoundly grateful to God, and this holiday retains the hallmark of giving thanks to a higher power. But in the many generations since the first Thanksgiving, the ritual of that thanks has expanded to gratefulness that stretches beyond religion.
This holiday marks the grace period between fall and winter; for many of us, today is a day to pause a moment and take stock before the headlong rush into the Christmas and New Year holidays.
The food on the table is a reminder of the harvest time and before that the heady summer days when the corn was struggling to grow knee high and the pumpkins were merely apple-sized. The gathering around the table brings out family tensions, but also reminds us that those tensions can be exactly why we are so grateful for our own, idiosyncratic, dysfunctional family. We are reminded that we have a place in the world, and we are not alone.
Then, after the meal, and then the leftovers, we will move on.
Over the next few days, the skiing world will turn its eyes to Killington for the third World Cup event in the Green Mountains in as many years.
Shoppers will hit the streets for Black Friday and Small Business Saturday; then Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday, in a ridiculous proliferation of pseudo-holiday marketing ploys. Schools are in the midst of theater productions and holiday concerts, and high school basketball practice starts in a couple weeks. Handel’s Messiah will soon ring from the rafters in churches and halls across Vermont, and the snow will pile deeper. Spring is a long, long ways away.
But all that is yet to come. For now, we give thanks for this day.