I’m shocked at how fast this year has flown by. It seems like just last month I was writing about Thanksgiving, and here it is again! It may seem like I’m pushing it by writing about the holiday, which is still 10 days away, but here’s the reason.
Now is when people start inviting guests to dinner. Now is when people — like me — start working up menus and tinkering with recipes. I wanted to get this out, because come next week, most of us are going to be too busy to take a break and think about what the holiday is all about and what it represents today.
Originally, Thanksgiving was the fall harvest festival to celebrate the bounty of a good summer, a hard year’s work and the promise of a new land. Legend has it that pilgrims and Indians (Native Americans, these days) sat down at a common table to break bread and make peace.
Today, we stop in at the local MegaMart and purchase cases of canned, frozen and freeze-dried foods. We have the ability to feed hordes of people out of our pantries. Our collective food wealth has surged to unprecedented levels in the history of mankind.
Yet, all this wealth comes at a tremendous cost. Not in terms of money — in actuality, the average food bill in America is extraordinarily low — the cost comes in the form of being separated from the process. Most of us don’t have the experience of tilling a row, planting corn, watching it grow all summer and then seeing huge chunks of it eaten by caterpillars or worms. As a society, we have “progressed” to the point where anyone with a stove and a pan can enjoy the variety of flavors the world has to offer.
From the very beginning of our country, we have been blending cultures to achieve something that is an odd mix of foreign and native. We have taken the best of the various contributors to build a new set of traditions on the foundations of the old.
Let’s take the traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce as an example. In my house, we add flavors of our heritage. Because I am Italian, we always make sure to have antipasto. The participants at my Thanksgiving will range from some California natives, a Texan and possibly someone from Ohio. This is what Thanksgiving is all about — the blending of cultures, experiences and people to become one — to become American.
It is easy to look around and give thanks for the obvious things. But dig deeper, look at the true wealth we have. Look at the mix of people and cultures that makes us a society. Look at how your life is shaped by the fact that your next door neighbor could be a different race or religion, yet both of you are American.
This Thanksgiving, we should take a look at how it all started, not from a historical perspective — for the bare facts of history shed no light or warmth — but from the perspective of what the first pilgrims and Indians did. They set in motion a pattern that we still repeat today. They opened their hearts and homes to get to know each other.
We might not be farmers, and few, if any, of us have slaughtered an animal for dinner, but we still have within us the ability to open our hearts and minds to see the bounty that is around us, a bounty that goes far beyond the material.
I am a man richly blessed in my friends. My house could be bigger, my car newer, my bank account fatter, my belly thinner, but at the end of the day, what is truly of value, what sustains me more than food, are the friends I have made and the people I know and love.
Take a moment and look to see the human bounty that surrounds you. Value your friends and apologize to those you have hurt. Make your teenagers squirm. Tell them you love them. Spend time with your parents. You’ll miss them when they are gone. Don’t worry about having the newest toy. Worry if you don’t have someone to invite to dinner.
Be brave this year. Invite someone new to dinner. Have them bring something from their heritage. You never know if you might find a new favorite treat.
Thanksgiving is not about pumpkin pie and sage dressing, it is about making friends, breaking bread and being grateful for both.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.