“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
Happy Thanksgiving! — to all those who celebrate this special holiday.
Last year on Thanksgiving, I itemized all the things for which I was thankful. Here it is that time again, one year later and that still all holds true but no special dinner has been planned. Canada celebrated its Thanksgiving Day in October and it’s nowhere near as big a holiday here as it is in the U.S.
In the U.S., for many Thanksgiving means not only a big family dinner but watching the annual parade or football game on TV, big sales on Black Friday the day after, and the horrendous traffic back for those who came in from out of town. All part of the tradition.
We have plenty of big, sit-down dinners here with my mate’s family, but my fondly remembered American Thanksgivings are now a thing of the past. I don’t know any Americans here, my mate’s not that crazy about pumpkin pie, and I’m a vegetarian, so there’d be no turkey. Turkey is traditional but I’ve had many an untraditional version, with calamari or tofu or soup. It was still a thanks-giving. My kids are hundreds of miles away and none of us can afford to visit at this time. Hence no big family Thanksgiving get-together celebration this year. We will share our good wishes over the telephone. As for spectator parade-watching or sports broadcasts or Black Friday shopping, none of that interests me. In that, I guess you could say I’m untraditional. Pumpkin pie, however, is non-negotiable. You absolutely cannot have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. It just doesn’t compute.
The most interesting Thanksgiving I ever heard about was from the wife of a former colleague who volunteered at a local soup kitchen. She told me that one Thanksgiving, to raise awareness of all the people who were starving in the world, some organization whose name I can no longer remember invited people to attend a big sit-down Thanksgiving dinner, for $15 per person, proceeds to go towards world hunger.
When you arrived, you were asked to pick your entry ticket out of a box. There were three kinds of tickets.
If you got a green ticket, you would be served the full dinner, with all the trimmings–and be allowed seconds on desert.
If you got a yellow ticket, you would be served what starving people in third-world countries sometimes get to eat–a child-sized helping of rice or thin, watery soup–and nothing else.
And if you got a white ticket–you’d get nothing at all.
So imagine you’re at this banquet and you get the full meal, with all the trimmings, and you’re sitting next to someone who got nothing. Would you turn and give half of what you have to that person? What if you’re one of the unlucky ones who got the thin, watery soup? Or worse, the empty plate. Would you quietly sip your water and listen to your stomach growl, hoping the people next to you might offer to give you some of theirs?
I’m sure a lot of sharing went around, probably immediately, after the initial surprise (and perhaps discomfort) wore off. Giving money to a charity, for which you get a sit-down dinner, is one thing; being invited to dinner and served an empty plate and having it suddenly sink in what real deprivation is like, is quite another. (Well, the invitation did say the theme was Awareness.) But how uncomfortable to have to sit in front of an empty plate all evening long while others are eating. That glass of water can only go so far.
I went without lunch yesterday–not by choice. I simply forgot. I was working on something and the hours flew and I suddenly realized it was getting dark outside and all I’d had to eat the whole day long was a cup of coffee at 6 a.m. My stomach began reminding me it hadn’t been fed. Loudly. No problem. I could open my refrigerator or reach for something in the cupboard and solve the problem, instantly.
But what if I couldn’t? What if, for whatever reason,there was none to be had and no more food would be forthcoming for another day. Another two days. Maybe even a whole week. How would I deal with that? Certainly, after a day or two, lack of food would make me woozy, lightheaded … lethargic, even. I’d probably lose weight. Temporarily fasting is one thing. Starvation, however, is quite another.
I think that’s what the organizers of that unusual Thanksgiving dinner wanted to convey–that life is not fair. Some of us get to sit down every evening to a good meal, Every Single Night. Some can only afford to buy food meant for animals. Some get somebody else‘s leftovers, fished out of a trash can. And some get nothing at all.
So many things to be thankful for this holiday. Awareness–however received–is one of them.
© 2012, Awyn, All rights reserved
THE MELLOW FRUITFULNESS OF FALL
SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run…
Autumn, transition between sultry summer and tempestuous winter, is a time to honor the dead, count and celebrate the harvest, and give thanks. The diverse peoples of the Northern Hemisphere indulge in family fun, feasting, crafts fairs, parades, and fine arts. Among the earliest celebrations are the Jewish Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, closely followed by Succot, the Feast of the Tabernacles. Originally the feasts were literally in tabernacles (huts). Now venerated around the family table, there’s the typical holiday scramble to assemble and prepare traditional foods: challah bread, gifilte fish or a roasted chicken, and apple cake or oatmeal cookies for dessert.
Harvest Moon, the first full moon before the fall equinox, presents another excuse to party. At communities, like Callaway Gardens in Georgia (U.S.A.), folks watch college football, take horticulture tours, and go cycling. Falling Leaf Moon is next, when the veil between the worlds of the living and dead is said to be thinnest. Celebrated by Pagans and Wiccans, it’s considered a ripe moment to gather for séance.
On the heals of Falling Leaf Moon is Halloween and all things spine-tingling. Special events at places like Carisbrooke Castle and Pendennis Castle in England – where the gothic and ghostly meet – offer visitors historic tours, spine-tingling walks, and spooky tales. It all harks back to the earlier times that birthed today’s foods, feasts, and falderal.
Dia de Todos los Santos (Day of All Saints) and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) are honored in Central and South America with customs that represent a melding of cultures, American and European. Feasting is the order of the day: suckling pig and tamales. There’s music and prayers, picnics held at graveyards, and tables decorated with candles, photographs of deceased relatives and friends, and T’ant’a Wawas (bread figurines for the Day of All Saints).
It would seem we humans – no matter the culture – like to celebrate our gratitude by feasting on the wealth of our harvest. In North America the big event of the season is Thanksgiving, a holiday that falls in early October in Canada and late November in the States. Major crops in North America include pumpkin, corn, potatoes, nuts, apples, and wheat, all ingredients for dinners of roasted and stuffed turkey, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin or apple pie. Happy kitchen chatter and clatter and the scents of cinnamon, cardamom, and sage fill the air.
Cities everywhere have parades, but the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York has a long history. It started in 1824 when immigrant workers wanted a festival like the ones they enjoyed in Europe. Today the parade is an exciting oversized event with mega-stars from television, Broadway and Hollywood and mega-sized balloons and floats. Forty-four million view it on TV.
Like the trade gatherings of the original peoples (Native Americans), crafters fairs are held at large event centers where crafters sell their handcrafted foods, household items, jewelry, and toys. These visually sensual treats arrive just in time for holiday decorating and gift giving. Often the fairs include musical entertainments, story-telling, and crafts classes as well.
A wealth of entertainment is offered everywhere: but Paris is queen, honoring autumn with theatre, music, dance and the visual arts at the Festival d’Automne à Paris that runs the length of the season, September through December.
Wherever the eye travels this season the décor, natural or inspired by nature, is bright, rich, and rustic. Public and private places are decorated with gourds, spiny ears of wheat, scarecrows, and leaves turned orange, red, and gold. Though autumn’s common denominator is the celebration of abundant crops, that abundance is excelled by the diversity of the dishes, peoples, and landscape across the Northern Hemisphere.
The links on challah bread and T’ant’a Wawas are to recipes
© essay, Jamie Dedes, 2011 all rights reserved
basket of apples/photo credit ~ morgueFile
T’ant’a Wawas/photo credit ~ The Global Gourmet