There used to be two holidays between Labor Day and Christmas. Of course, you can’t tell these days since as soon as you are back from your long Labor Day weekend the Halloween candy and pumpkin spice lattes are out. And before the first trick or treater knocks on your door, its full-on Christmas in the stores. The poor turkey, or maybe the lucky turkey. Not sure which. What had been the consummate American holiday, ripe with native American poultry and extended family gatherings, has been bowled over by the much sexier and more virulently consumer-driven Yuletide.
Before I go on with my Thanksgiving lament, let me fess up and say I find Thanksgiving painful. While the holiday itself has been run over and its origins debunked, it’s still a notable social gathering in most families. And why not? Who can fault our moms for trying to get everyone together, even if many of us aren’t talking to each other? That’s one of the reasons I’m no fan: The concept of getting together is great, but as the intent of the holiday got lost in the shuffle to New Year’s, it simply became, in large part, another dinner party—in the middle of the week, often at a great distance and with as many of the relatives as you could guilt into coming, even though you didn’t have a lot to say to them. Then we get to repeat it all again in a month. I wasn’t always sure of the point of Thanksgiving, since it just seemed like a dry run for Christmas, but without the good cheer.
By now many of you hate me and think I’m an old curmudgeon. I guess to a degree I am. Lest you think next month’s column is going to see me playing Scrooge, I would refer you to last year’s December column. As that column showed, I love the holidays, whatever you celebrate, and whatever you call them. It’s the underlying concept that should drive how we feel and how we celebrate at this time of year, not a fairy tale of Pilgrims and Native people. So, I’m going to surprise you and advocate for a renewed celebration of Thanksgiving. Emphasis on the ‘thanks’ part. This is especially true this year, the year that was supposed to be a return to calm and normalcy but which is anything but.
I know that in many families there’s a dedicated part of the evening where everyone gets to say what they’re thankful for. It’s a very laudable moment, if not somewhat contrived. I’m advocating for something less “sound bite” and more communally heartfelt. I’m not sure what that is, or how to achieve it, though. It’s one of those ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ things. I do know that it should be a true inner look at who and where we are, the people around us who’ve made a positive impact, and our relative—if not absolute—good fortune. Because, no matter how motivated, hard-working and driven we may be, we don’t exist in a vacuum. None of us got here on our own, nor would it be much fun to celebrate that way.
In a world that looks ever scarier, we should give thanks for all the cliché wonders of living where we do, the freedoms and opportunities we still enjoy, and our relative ease and comfort. Beyond that, look around and identify what makes your thanks personal and unique to yourself, and stop taking your good fortune for granted. As Americans, we generally focus on what’s next, what’s better, what’s missing. It drives us, but it also distracts us from living in the moment, from seeing what we’ve already accomplished and achieved. So, on November 24 and every day, stop for a minute. Look around and smile. And under your breath, say thank you to the world around you.
Dr. Blecher is an attending surgeon at Wills Eye Hospital.