Ideas to Consider #6…Thanksgiving

Last week, I said I was going to share a hypothesis on how Americans seemingly have lost faith in believing we have each other’s best interests at heart.  Well, 2020 struck again and the need to pivot occurred with full-time remote learning beginning for two high school students.  My office got taken over, along with my thinking space, documents, and time.  So – my thoughts on why we have lost faith are not fully formulated yet. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it is the need to be flexible and adapt.  Therefore, I won’t be sharing my hypothesis this week.  Yet,  I wanted to write something to keep my commitment of one post a week. After thinking a bit about what to write on my morning walk, I decided to write about Thanksgiving.

In case you do not know, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  I have said this for years because:

  • Family Fun without presents.  I enjoy getting together with extended relatives and hearing stories.  That often happens at Christmas time, but I dislike Christmas because of gift giving.  It’s stressful to pick gifts out because (I’m sure you have heard this before): It doesn’t quite fit right. The color is wrong.  I wanted this Lego set, not that one. Or the face gives the disappointment away with a ‘Oh thanks…just what I wanted.’  Yeah right.  I saw your face.  Personally, I like to make people happy and well – the disappointment of not giving the perfect gift stresses me out.  Plus, people spend so much money on stuff it drives me nuts.  Americans have too much stuff and Christmas exasperates this phenomena.  More is not always better.  But Thanksgiving…family without gifts.  Wonderful.
  • For many of us, it is a Four-day weekend.  Memorial Day and Labor Day are great because many of us have a three day weekend.  But a four day weekend is awesome!  Thursday is tied up with family and food.  Friday is recovery and fun.  And you still have a full weekend to get chores done.  I liked feeling rested going back to work on Monday.
  • Football.  Lots of football games to watch and no guilt in doing so because it is a holiday weekend.  
  • Food.  I like the food – Turkey, stuffing, cranberry/orange relish.  Potatoes and gravy.  Apple and pumpkin pie. Homemade whipped cream.  Maybe I wouldn’t like it if we ate it often, but we didn’t in our family.  Once a year.  A full stomach.  And then a nice nap.  Ahhhh.

But how do we celebrate Thanksgiving in 2020?  What are we thankful for in the midst of this year filled with millions of deaths across the globe due to COVID-19; the constant political noise of the American election; the pain and hurt, but needed reckoning, of race relations; and for me an early retirement due to chronic health issues?

First, this may sound silly but I am thankful that we actually have Thanksgiving. I have seen the memes/cartoons online about Thanks-colonization with pictures of Native Americans and the Pilgrims.  And there is some honesty in that which was not really taught to my generation in school.  But there is also something positive about taking time to reflect on what we are thankful for annually.  

I listen to the Happiness Lab podcast with Laurie Santos, a psychology professor from Yale, regularly.  One of the constant reminders from science that her guests share is that reflecting on the things one is grateful for leads to happiness. For us to do that as a national practice seems wise to me.

Also, for the past 15 years, one of my colleagues from India and I talked about how her family celebrates Thanksgiving.  When she, her son and husband arrived in the United States they thought this holiday was peculiar because they had nothing like it in India.  The food was different.  The art/symbols that her son brought home from school were different. The story of the Pilgrims/Indians was new and unusual.   At first, they didn’t make a deal of it.  But then her son started asking for the traditional fixings.  So she along with many other Indian mothers started making the food together and the families would have a feast of American Thanksgiving along with Indian specialties.  And it became one of her favorite times of the year.   A time of reflection along with food and fun.  

So I am thankful for the holiday itself.

The other major thing I am thankful for this year may sound silly as well, but it is food itself.  Somehow in the middle of this pandemic farmers, migrants, immigrants, laborers, brokers, commodity traders, grocers, truck drivers, cashiers, all the people in the food chain have been able to keep food in the grocery stores. It reminds me of the invisible, magic hand that Adam Smith talks about regarding capitalism.  Somehow capitalism and the market figures it out.  Of course, capitalism creates pain and disruption for many.  But our stores are still full of food and that is amazing.

Last night I finished reading Trevor Noah’s book, Born a Crime, about his life growing up in South Africa during apartheid and the transition to democracy.  One of the most amazing things he discusses is the food that black and colored people ate regularly.  The need to suck marrow out of bones for protein.  Eating caterpillars that explode with feces in your mouth when you bite down in the wrong spot.  Regularly eating goat heads, and what parts taste good and what parts don’t.  It really humbled me to read this and understand more about the day to day lives of black and colored people in South Africa under that evil system.  

Finally, I can eat this year on Thanksgiving.  You see, there was one year when I could not.  I had something called fistulas which are holes in my intestines that leaked waste into my abdominal cavity.  In fact, some fistulas actually made their way to my skin and would leak out of my stomach area.  The ultimate fix to this problem was surgery, but I was too weak and my abdominal area was such a mess that I needed to wait for there to be healing before the surgeons would undertake the operation.  As a result, I was on TPN – total perinatal nutrition – IV food.  Hook yourself up at 6 pm for 12 hours to a bag of food.  Go to work.  Come home and hook yourself up again.  And then keep doing it for eight months.  During that time, I learned that food is not only for subsistence, but it is also how we organize our social lives.  We gather around food to share about our lives, celebrate, and have fun.  For eight months people did not want to socialize with my family because they didn’t want to eat around us thinking that it would be rude to eat in front of me.  It was just the opposite, it was isolating and hard socially more than physically.

This year, our public health officials are encouraging us NOT to gather around food for Thanksgiving.  Be with our immediate family, and do zoom visits instead.  My Idea to Consider this week is Listen to Them. I know it is going to be hard to miss the large family meal, the social time, the fun of watching football in a large group. But we can do this for one year. Vaccines are on the way.  We can have HUGE celebrations in 2021.  But let’s help slow the spread of the virus so kids can get back to in-person school and play high school sports.  Elective surgeries can happen again.  Restaurants, movie theaters, and bowling alleys can open.  Tourism can start.  People can go back to work in these hospitality industries.

Thanksgiving 2020.  It will be one to remember and tell stories about to future generations.  But it’s here.  There is food in the stores.  There are ways to visit remotely like never before.  I can eat…no fistulas.  I have an incredible wife, daughter, son and family.  I live in America with all of its faults.  I am full of gratitude.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.


2 thoughts on “Ideas to Consider #6…Thanksgiving

  1. Rich Williams says:

    Matthew, I started on Ideas to Consider #6 and will proceed backward to #1 over this Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Maybe that’s just dumb luck since for years you and I, as the non hunters in the Alpena T-day collection of relatives, certainly spent quality time together on numerous Thanksgivings.

    The two of us were typically relegated to either taking the youngest of Bronwyn’s guests to the latest lame holiday flick or secretly able to catch whatever football game was available while the kids in our charge demolished the house. Yep, black Fridays were for the manly gun toters to stalk deer, the women folk to cruise resale shops and you and I to hold court with preschool and elementary free range youngsters feeding them strudel and whipped cream from the can in a post Thanksgiving Day feeding frenzy of college games and leftovers. Your observations on this food fest holiday were spot-on and much appreciated. Keep writing my friend.


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