Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thanksgiving Weekend

Surely there can’t be anyone at this time of year, on the eve of the commencement of the traditional Thanksgiving Weekend, who doesn’t fill his or her head with images of turkey dinners, roaring fires, autumn leaves, windswept billowing clouds, Martha Stewart and family gatherings. Everything about Thanksgiving has such a compelling, cozy and woolly feel to it. Perhaps because the event is not plagued with the necessity and utter distraction of gift-giving, Thanksgiving is less tangled than Christmas celebrations often become. Thanksgiving is so thoroughly about the sensory delights of sight, sound and smell that even if one isn’t the least spiritual, there is ample room for indulgence (yet another pointed departure from the Christmas experience). The American amalgamation of Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims has all but been abandoned in modern society, at least as far as the Puritanical feature goes; and the wild turkey motif which has replaced it commonly comes in a glass bottle.

As a seasonal happening, Thanksgiving is very much about the transition from exceeding abundance to withering deprivation. The fleeting moments during which the colourful leaves continue to cling to the trees are a reminder that all is about to change, and quickly. How odd it is that, on the very precipice of decline, the occasion is marked by such an explosion of bountifulness and vibrancy. Heightening these sensational thrills, and nicely rounding out the human experience, is the driving familial element to the proceedings. It is nothing for younger family members in Edmonton to contemplate flying home to rural Ontario for Thanksgiving dinner with their aging parents, various siblings and extended family relations. The connection of blood and marriage is seldom more strong than on Thanksgiving Weekend, a point in time which seems to suit a reconnoitering of the clan in general.

Because it would for most be unthinkable to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner anywhere other than in the comfort of one’s home, the occasion has the added advantage of avoiding the surplusage and expense of ceremonies such as weddings which are regularly conducted in hotels or public resorts. The same intimacy mitigates against having to include almost anyone other than immediate family, something I suppose which can be both a good and bad thing, depending upon how comfortable one is with one’s own relations. But at least one needn’t contemplate the more abstract features of socializing with arm’s length acquaintances, at times a bit of a struggle.

As with most family gatherings (which on average are infrequent), Thanksgiving provides the opportunity to gather first-hand information about the progress in life of the various players, especially those younger members who may have moved away from the homestead to pursue a career or education in distant urban centres. It is remarkable how alienated we can become from our relatives if we don’t cavort with them regularly; and equally striking how quickly the youth grow up and advance, almost at breakneck speed. Thanksgiving is once again the metaphor for change, a process which for some is delightful, while for others a disaster. Nonetheless, the reality is that time is precious, so we’re wise to make the best of what remains, and that includes spending time with those who are dearest to us. Very often it is sadly too late that we realize our family connections are the most valuable resource we will ever enjoy.

The family dinner on Thanksgiving is the springboard for the visual, auditive and olfactive experience at its highest pitch, particularly if one has (as I do) a mother who insists on preparing the large meal from start to finish, including extensive hors d’oeuvres, the largest possible "bird", mountains of stuffing, pitchers of gravy, terrines of exotically prepared vegetables, wines of course, all followed by at least two different desserts and then some! Year after year, my sister and I have tried to persuade our mother to delegate portions of the meal to others, but always without success. It is very much my mother’s singular and personal undertaking, and one which never fails to satisfy, as sated as we may all be at the end of the evening.

So, with all this to contemplate, I have but to think what I might wear to the upcoming gathering, and perhaps what small token I shall bring along. It is a weekend which promises fulfillment in every sense of the word!

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