Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Primarily because food is my hobby and passion, and Thanksgiving is a holiday that puts food at its center.
At Thanksgiving, it's not a feast and gifts, not a meal to celebrate or remember, not food and religion. The feast itself is the celebration, a symbol of our collective bounty.
Whether one talented home cook (or a novice one taking on a challenge) makes the whole meal or it is a potluck affair, the feast is the centerpiece of the holiday - it's the reason to gather.
No child is rushing through Thanksgiving dinner so that they can open presents. No family is trying to fit in a meal before an extra church service.
It's not a side hustle for the holiday, it's the day's main gig.
And I love that because, as one among the food-obsessed, I know that preparing a meal is about more than just feeding bodies. It's about sharing goodness. It's about pleasure and comfort. It's about bringing people together.
And God, don't we need that these days?
If Thanksgiving does have a side hustle, it's reflection.
Because we all know that the grade school story about two communities coming together for a harvest meal is far more complex and problematic than we were told, none of us really celebrate that. Some of us dust it with leftover powdered sugar from the array of desserts we put out and serve it up anyway. Most of us just ignore it.
But perhaps we should reflect on that real history. How can we do better? There are lots of opportunities to do better on that front today. (And lots of ways to mess it up. Let’s stop messing it up.)
Certainly a valuable Thanksgiving side hustle is to reflect on what we are thankful for. On a purely personal level, I’m thankful for my friends, family, and fur babies. I am fortunate to have a tight knit group of people who support me, make me laugh, and comfort me in times of pain. My people are flung across a vast expanse of geography, which can be difficult, but they are there which is what matters. And I am thankful.
But it’s not always easy to be thankful. Many people find personal level thankfulness tough because they don’t have those people, or because of sickness or loss. And when we broaden our reflection – the constant news of violence, strife, corruption, mistreatment, and injustices – there is a lot to make us righteously angry rather than thankful. There is, certainly. And we should be angry.
But I remind myself that, taking a historical view, the present we are living in is actually the best of times for most people. Thanks to science: there are cures for diseases once fatal; conveniences of technology; widely available clean water. Thanks to the EPA, we have cleaner waterways and air. Thanks to civil rights activists and laws: fewer people are enslaved and disenfranchised today; women have more economic and leadership opportunities than ever before; LGBTQ people can marry and serve in the military. Thanks to centuries of laws and policies, every child in the US has access to public education.
Things are better today than they ever have been. There is still a lot to do, absolutely. If you think that enslavement, disenfranchisement, and inequality are a thing of the past, you're wrong. Even basic things like clean water and air are not always guaranteed.
There is a lot to do, a lot to stand for, and a lot on the line to lose if we do not stand.
We cannot be grateful for the current events flooding our senses these days, but we can be reflective. We can ask ourselves what we can do. We can be activated. And we should. I'm a firm believer that you shouldn't complain about a problem without doing something to address it. My mother taught me that.
Even though I am often easily exhausted these days, I also find it ever so easy to be grateful. (We can be angry and thankful at the same time. These things are not mutually exclusive.)
When I look around, it's easy to see the people doing good. The people standing and fighting to maintain the progress we have made over centuries. The people showing true kindness to one another, not just to those in their immediate families or social circles. The courageous people telling their own stories.
I consider myself lucky to be involved with two organizations doing fantastic amounts of good in Chicago.
At my full-time gig with H.O.M.E., we help seniors who are living in poverty in Chicago. These seniors find themselves in poverty in their older years for a great range of reasons, but many of those reasons are directly related to injustice and inequality they have faced over the years. Most of our clients are women who have worked their whole lives in undervalued or underpaid jobs. Some of our clients faced a health crisis and had to spend much of their meager savings on surviving. Our clients are veterans, immigrants, academics, and laborers. Our clients are overwhelmingly African American. Y’all. We didn’t stand for these people earlier in their lives, and now they need support to stay healthy, safe, and housed. I’m so grateful that H.O.M.E. is there to help and that I can be a part of it. (You can too.)
I’m also so grateful to be involved with the Chicago Foundation for Women. The Chicago Foundation for Women works year round to invest in women and girls to build strong communities. As part of Giving Tuesday*, they are making special grants to organizations that help immigrant and refugee women in Chicago. These organizations provide mentoring, domestic violence services, resettlement programs, and advocacy – so much good. You can vote for who will win a grant of up to $20,000. Do it. Be a part of the change.
To catapult us right into the next holiday season, I’ll conjure up Love, Actually: In spite of the state of the world, if you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around. (And if you do find yourself at an airport this weekend, take in the beauty that is on display in the greetings of long awaited loved ones. It's magical.)
Happy feasting this Thanksgiving. That’s the main event. And if you can, take some time to reflect – not just on what you are thankful for but also on the things we cannot be thankful for, and what you can do to make it better.
*And y’all, if you are struggling to find the good, just search Giving Tuesday on Facebook and you’ll see that there is so much good happening, and you can join in.
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