I posted about Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals a while back but he makes a few noteworthy points regarding the Thanksgiving holiday in the conclusion to his book that I think are worth considering.
First of all, Thanksgiving is kind of the ultimate holiday - it encompasses all the varied values, beliefs, and ideals that other holidays celebrate on an individual basis. Foer suggests that each particular holiday encourages celebrants to be thankful for something in particular, whereas Thanksgiving allows us to demonstrate thanks for anything and everything. I like the ambitious nature of the holiday and the flexibility with which we can all relate it to our individual lives.
Foer also advocates Thanksgiving not so much as an American holiday but one that celebrates cherished American ideals. No, I'm not talking about consumerism, excess, and commercialization but rather freedom, family, love, community. Though I value being an American and living in a country ripe with opportunity, there are times when my patriotism wanes and my faith in our realization of democracy grows weak. But Thanksgiving gives us all a gentle reminder of the foundational values that unite and guide us all. And sometimes all I need is that friendly shove to reinstall my fondness for what makes us American.
Finally, Foer recognizes Thanksgiving as the one meal a year that "we try most earnestly to get right. It holds the hope of being a good meal, whose ingredients, efforts, setting, and consuming are expressions of the best in us. More than any other meal, it is about good eating and good thinking." Thanksgiving is a meal full of hard work, good intentions, and a deliciously comforting payoff. No matter who gathers round your dinner table the rest of the year or how long and hard you labor to feed yourself and your loved ones, Thanksgiving is the meal to top them all. I like that, in addition to providing necessary sustenance in the form of foodstuffs, this meal can also offer a healthy dose of cheer, camaraderie, optimism, gratitude, and generosity.
In the context of the book, Foer can't help but relate the holiday and it's central source of protein, the turkey, to his cause. And, while I agree with a majority of his maxims and can't argue against his logic, that discussion is for another time and another post. In fact, if you want to read more about it, you can check out my review of the book from earlier this year. Though these words of Foer's are a bit removed from their original context, they've stuck with me enough to warrant sharing and they still ring clear and true.
I want to encourage any and all of my readers out there to cherish this holiday for what it's really worth. Thanksgiving is the one time of the year, more than any other, when we really do see the best in others (I think even more so than Christmastime). There is so much for each and every one of us who are sitting down before a computer and reading this post to be thankful for, no matter what struggles may fall heavy on our shoulders in our normal day to day lives. I like how idyllic Thanksgiving is - how we can focus on all that is good for one night of feasting, immerse ourselves in food comas to help block out the bad. But in forcing us to acknowledge all that we have, Thanksgiving also makes it possible to recognize what others lack. Like your neighbor who has no family with whom to spend the holidays, or the turkey whose life was defined by the cruelty of a factory farming operation, or strangers on the other side of the world who could only dream of a feast as abundant as the one on your Thanksgiving table.
In giving thanks this Thursday, I hope you also take the time to recognize those who have less for which to be grateful. If we could all commit a few acts of kindness and self-sacrifice, maybe we could afford others just a little bit more to rejoice in on Thanksgiving Day. And ultimately, I think that's what it's all about - rejoicing in all that we have and rejoicing in all that we give to others.