Thursday, November 28, 2013

Over the River and Through the Wood

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather's house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow

I can't remember exactly how old I was or what grade I was in when I learned (that is, memorized, as we did in those days) that famous 1844 Thanksgiving poem by Lydia Maria Child, a New England abolitionist author's nostalgic evocation of family and Thanksgiving festivity. There is no snow here in the San Francisco Bay Area this morning, nor will we cross any rivers to get to my sister's house for Thanksgiving dinner later this afternoon. But what was the quintessentially New England holiday in the 1840s has long since become the quintessentially American holiday - marred, to be sure, by the contemporary capitalist excess of "Black Friday" (anticipated in more and more places now on Thanksgiving Thursday itself), but still one of the most wonderful days of the year! 
Norman Rockwell's famous Thanksgiving picture from the March 1943 Saturday Evening Post (photo) captures the distinct spirit of this holiday. Entitled Freedom from Want, it was originally one of Rockwell's  Four Freedoms paintings that were inspired by FDR's wartime (1941) "Four Freedoms" speech. (Along with Freedom from Want, the other three freedoms were Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, and Freedom from Fear). 
On Christmas, I properly put my energy into celebrating the mystery of the Incarnation during the night and on Christmas morning. Having done that (hopefully well), I feel fulfilled by the day and do not mind much being all alone the rest of the day, as has been my lot in recent years. But for Thanksgiving it's important to be with others - preferably family. In the words of that 1954 holiday song, familiar from countless Perry Como Thanksgiving shows, "There's no place like home for the holidays." (Of course, California has never been my home. "Home" has a fixed geographical reference that is immutable, but "home" also has a metaphorical meaning evoking the company of loved ones, a different but also altogether precious thing.)

We all have much to be thankful for. At 65 going on 66, perhaps the primary thing to be thankful for is life itself. Just being here, alive and manageably well, is a grace, the first of many others - faith, family, friends, vocation, community, and, of course, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! 

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