Note: This is an update to reflect my recent move to Canada, who celebrates Thanksgiving in October, on the so-called holiday of Columbus Day.
Between the turkey, cranberry sauce, heaping mashed potatoes, libations, a half-time show, and overloaded dishwasher, it’s easy to lose the message of Thanksgiving.
How many of us actually stop to reflect on the lives we enjoy? Do we sit down and truly consider how fortunate we all are as a Western society to have the opportunity to gather friends and family in our warm homes, place settings for all, with our very best china set out to receive a momentous bounty of succulent treats?
It’s a beautiful thing we have here and it behooves us to impart deeper meaning of the word “thanksgiving” to our children, in between bites of sautéed beans and pumpkin pie a la mode.
To some, Thanksgiving may simply mean a day on the calendar to take off from work, relax, watch a football game (or two) and stuff ourselves silly.
For others, it may mean the start of the holiday shopping season, with plans to turn in early to get enough sleep before the 2 a.m. rise time to prepare for Black Friday, sale flyer clutched in hand, credit card at the ready, and a determination to score the best deal on that super-cool Xbox One.
For kids, Thanksgiving may involve school lessons about an autumn gathering in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians, with books read and costumes prepared for a play, their hand-print construction paper turkey decorations stuffed in their backpacks for presentation to Mom or Dad. Of course the days off school are pretty nice as well!
Those preparing the meals may reflect on Thanksgiving as a bit of a mixed bag. Their hours-long toils in the kitchen; peeling, mashing, sautéing, roasting, measuring, and baking may provide exhaustion in a physical sense but a deep satisfaction when they bask in their guests’ compliments.
Forks and Spoons
Others less fortunate may, however, face this Thanksgiving with a far-less cheerful mindset. From the homeless lining up at the soup kitchens, ragged mittens clutching paper plates of donated meals, to the family gathering at the table with one place setting unoccupied; a beloved member having recently passed, giving thanks sometimes takes effort.
On faraway cots in a distant, dusty land, many of our loved ones may, on this day of thanks, be simply gratified to emerge alive, their USO connections binding them home with care packages of special treats.
Chicago columnist Eric Zorn has reminded us in articles past about how “we live better than kings.” It’s true. Our Western culture’s relative wealth has afforded us a measure of existence only dreamed of around the world. From our modern conveniences to the luxuries of running water and reliable electricity, to the seemingly endless supply of food, we truly enjoy a lifestyle that by its very nature lends itself to complacency.
Even with our stagnant unemployment rate, we’ve got it pretty good here in the USA. At least we have the right to voice our unhappiness with our government, work where we pretty much please, and with enough support, can make much of our lives. If you don’t believe me, try taking a trip to Darfur.
Live Below the Line
One thing my son did recently for a sociology school project was participate in Unicef’s Below the Line campaign, which challenges participants to live on a daily food budget of about $1.50 a day, which is what, according to the website, 1.2 billion people in poverty around the world face every day. For them, there is no relief at the end of the 5-day challenge (like today for my son on Thanksgiving Day), and they will face another in a stream of endless tomorrows with food insecurity. In a report released this October by Unicef, it is indicated that
Children remain ‘the most enduring victims’ of the recession in the world’s wealthiest nations, where 2.6 million children have fallen below the poverty line since 2008, a new report from UNICEF reveals.
But by participating in the Below the Line Campaign, Unicef states that
Over the past 3 years, over 25,000 people across the world have taken the challenge to eat and drink on $1.50 a day for 5 days, raising over $4.4 million for the world’s leading anti-poverty organizations.
Live Below the Line
In doing this project, my son discovered something he had not felt in his lifetime…
And it gave him a life lesson that I would hazard a guess will outlast any possible handout or worn-out lecture about natives and Pilgrims ever will this time of year.
This Thanksgiving, while you’re tucking into that second slice of pecan pie, remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt, whose cousin, FDR, in 1941 made Thanksgiving an official holiday.
“Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.” ~Theodore Roosevelt
To participate in the Below the Line campaign by Unicef: Living Below the Line PDF.
To help the homeless this Thanksgiving (and throughout the year), click here.
To help one of our troops: www.uso.org
Photos courtesy George Bosela and Marsha Maung from Freeimages.com.