On my current calendar, Thanksgiving sits with Opet and Grinchmas as community holidays, but I’ve never had that strong of a connection to it. If I want to incorporate it into my life in any meaningful way, then- as opposed to going through the ‘traditional’ motions because everyone else does- I’m going to have to do some work.
My family has never been huge about Thanksgiving. There was an assumption on both my mother and stepfather’s sides that we would get together, but that was mostly because that is what’s always been done; neither side has ever been particularly sentimental. My mother’s side isn’t very sentimental about any holidays, really. My uncle with the kids is religious-ish- they’re Episcopalian, and seem to be fairly active in their church community, but they don’t talk about it with the rest of the family. We get together on birthdays and traditional holiday weekends because it’s what people do. My stepfather’s family is much closer and more involved in each other’s lives, and they’ll take any excuse to get together. But their family is Polish and Ukrainian- Grinchmas is the Big Deal for them, not Thanksgiving. (Particularly Grinchmas Eve, a never-ending bone of contention between my mother and her mother-in-law.) Thanksgiving for them usually consists of celebrating the kids’ birthdays, turkey, and football; it’s a prelude to the Big Deal. And, of course, I never saw my dad, who was usually working (and also lived several hundred miles away), nor any of his family, who lived another few hundred from him. I don’t know any of their Thanksgiving traditions (aside from the fact that Papa volunteered at a soup kitchen for years before he died) or their traditional foods (though I think one of the typical desserts is pecan pie, possibly) or how important it is to them.
There wasn’t much emphasis on Thanksgiving outside my family either. At school, it was all but ignored in my older years- it was simply a day off, periodically with a large homework assignment from the less pleasant teachers. In the younger years, it consisted of making construction paper hand turkeys, and talking about the First Thanksgiving with the Brave Pilgrims and the Noble Indians. We made construction paper Pilgrim hats and genero-Indian headbands with brightly colored feathers sticking up at the back. It was fairly typical for the US public school system, I think, and did not instill any particular love of the holiday for me. In fact, as I got into my high school years, I turned my cynicism on the holiday (like most everything else, I’ll note) and did a lot of grumping about the treatment of Native Americans versus their role as noble savages in our mythology, and compared Thanksgiving to Columbus Day as another token “Indian” holiday where we pretended that we hadn’t slaughtered them.
…okay, so my cynicism hasn’t entirely worn off. But it leaves me in a weird position. There’s the history of the civic holiday, which is Judeo-Christian thanks-to-god along with some nationalism. There’s the history of the actual practice, which is rooted in New England Calvinism, since days of thanksgiving were fairly common. There’s the history involving the actual First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, which was a three day feast after the colony’s first successful harvest, which only happened because of the help of Squanto and Massasoit. There’s my family’s “do it because it’s what’s done” approach. And then there’s the overall US communal stuff, parades and turkeys and football, with varying emphasis on religion and charity, and the ever-increasing encroachment of Black Friday and Grinchmas. Honestly, just looking at this, I have a bit of a headache.
One of my first thoughts is how in a lot of cases, the Thanksgiving “season” begins the day after Halloween. In fact, autumn into winter is a set of seasons- Opet, from the end of September into early October; Halloween, which for me is roughly mid October until the 31st; Thanksgiving, most of November; Grinchmas, the remainder of November through most of December. They are all also giving or sharing holidays- Opet celebrates and reinforces community bonds, Halloween is basically giving candy to children and could be argued as giving fun and escapism to adults, Thanksgiving has a lot of giving to the homeless and less fortunate, and Grinchmas continues that along with giving to family and friends. And I forgot Samhain, which overlaps with Halloween and the beginning of Thanksgiving, for giving to the Dead. Looking at it this way, it also seems to be a progression from larger community to smallest. My Opet celebration involves giving to people around the world through Kiva.org; Halloween and Samhain have a lot of local or specified community aspects; Thanksgiving continues the local theme but starts to narrow down to family; Grinchmas is primarily family oriented.
I’m still not sure where this leaves me. I’m not in a position to be doing much in the way of donating money, and I didn’t do volunteer work growing up, so the idea of getting into it as an adult, by myself, kind of terrifies me socially awkward introvert kind of way. The school essay of Nykti’s I proofread comes to mind- she did a Medicine Walk with an Aboriginal group, giving the medicines of laughter, compassion, and peace to people that the group came across; those are important gifts, ones that I myself would like to give, but I don’t know how. I don’t know how to integrate myself into community. It’s not even that I feel unwelcomed, exactly, I just feel nonexistent. (“Go to the UU in Raleigh” pops into my mind, but I am reluctant, and I don’t know whether it’s the social anxiety or something else.)
All of this said, I still don’t know what, if anything, I’ll be doing for Thanksgiving next week. I do have some things to work on, though: taking a good look at myself and seeing what I have to give, and figuring out how to make those first steps toward community and away from being an isolated shut-in. This might take me til next Thanksgiving!