I love thanksgiving because it has all the wonderment, all the hearty good food, all the beauty and all precious time with loved ones, but without the hype, or the violent parking lots of Christmas. It doesn’t have the commercialization of any other holiday. We all know Christmas is atrocious, but even Easter (which I will defend vigorously as my other favourite holiday for reasons more profound) has the energizer bunny droning on in offensive pastels. That does wear on one’s nerves so.
Thanksgiving is, naturally, an opportunity for some quality time with family, and it never seems to have the angst-filled snappishness of a holiday previously named. One year I booked myself a tour with the Eric & Jeanie Travel company (I have a brochure on their fantastic itinerary to France if you're interested). That particular Thanksgiving my dad and I had a lovely bonding experience along the Naramata wine route as he taught me how to taste wine properly while Jeanie drove the tour bus. And it was such a treat to be able to give - in person - a hearty congratulations to the Alberta cousins (that we so rarely see!) who participated in the Kelowna marathon that year. Sharing in the post-run spoils without actually doing the run itself is entirely justifiable if you have come such a distance just to see them cross the finish line. Of course, we stayed in bed while they were running and crossing all lines, but it was great to see them later that day, after their respective showers.
In the last two or three years, I have also come of age through Thanksgiving. I baked my first turkey last year, which provides no end of mirth and merriment to this day as I recall showing up with a half-thawed bird at my friend Krystal’s house ready to bake that thing into submission a mere three hours before guests were to arrive. That night was one of the evenings that I cherish most to this day. It encapsulates my life in Vancouver – we ate until we couldn’t fit any more. We decided the definitive top 10 reasons to de-friend someone on facebook. We learned that turkeys take DAYS to defrost and that Jamie Oliver means what he says about stuffing. We laughed so hard the wine may have come out our noses.
Last night, a friend and I hosted a Canadian thanksgiving dinner in Antananarivo for 19 guests at my apartment. I didn’t know I had 19 friends in Tana! And think of the ones who wanted to come, but couldn’t! How lucky I am! How obscenely blessed I am that I could cook for 19 people! How ridiculously rich my life that I could have my cook, Perline, to help!! She came for the whole day and managed the turkeys (last year’s escapade was delicious, but it didn’t give me much of a boost of confidence) and I handled the desserts (to which I will pledge undying affection for all my thanksgivings to come). I had never done a sit down dinner for that many people and I admit just to you, dear reader, that I was terrified.
I woke up at 6 am yesterday morning (after a week of jet-lag and sleep deprivation over a big work project) with feverish anxiety dreams about a dearth of potatoes. I managed to procure an extra bag of potatoes by 9:30, but I still had those two birds to worry and wring my hands over. Let me just tell you – Gasy turkeys are not the same as Canadian turkeys. For one thing, there is no butterball here. We get them as they come. That means that you have to buy two to get what you’d get from one back home. Oh and they come home from the store with all the body parts God gave ‘em. They still had claws attached. I wish they wouldn’t leave the claws attached. It humanizes them. Poor Gus and poor Sylvia – may they rest in peace.
But, lo and behold, it was scrumptious and fantastic and we had more food that we could possibly imagine. What a day to be thankful for indeed.
Many of my friends here are not Canadian, as one would imagine. I have quite a few, in fact, who are British, who are less familiar with thanksgiving á la Canuck, than with the well-touted American version. I was asked on Friday night what the point of it is for us, since we were more reticent than our American neighbours to be done with our colonial
master mother. Well, you know, we have a um… a harvest, and we’re… we’re just generally grateful people… But it is more than that. As one lovely person remarked during the toast, it came from a time when people were pulling in the harvest and batting down the hatches for the coming Canadian winter, it was a time to be grateful as one looked the worst square in the eye.
I love thanksgiving because we know that winter is coming. We know that we will always face hard times and that we should always cultivate a grateful heart. But we need a reminder to do it and we sometimes even need a reminder of the very things for which we are thankful: beautiful friends and family, a full belly and a full heart, change of season and change in circumstance. We know that these things are good and I know the One from whom they come, but I don’t always remember to admit my gratitude for them. Thankfully, he is more than willing to put them right in front of my face all at once, usually about once or twice a year, to make it very obvious.