There was no day off, no wandering treks over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, no Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special. No turkey. There was merely our small family, huddled together in a frigid flat in a Scottish winter, reviving our traditions, reflecting on our blessings, and remembering the Lord’s goodness. We were alone, strangers in a strange land, without family, without the familiar experiences of home.
Thanksgiving is a wholly American holiday, our only truly national one. While other nations celebrate their independence or national patron saints, the period of giving thanks is one unique to the States. Our founding myth, commemorated in William Bradford’s On Plymouth Plantation, is much ignored and much derided today, mocked by critics with a cynicism that chips away at both national need for unity and the spiritual need for gratitude. So, too, the 1864 Thanksgiving proclamation of Abraham Lincoln, wise in recognizing those needs even in the tumult of a civil war, is rarely recited these days. Football and shopping loom large as distractions to feasting and family. Yet despite its seeming loss of significance, this holy day remains part of our national DNA. As evidenced by the weekend travel schedule, all hear the call to return home—even the prodigal.
Ours that year was a humble Thanksgiving, but not a wasted one. Without the holiday hallmarks, we experienced both the disappointments of estrangement and the joy of needful things. After all, even among family one may find it difficult to discover gratitude. One can easily feel lonely in a crowd, and a party is no guarantee of fellowship. Yet the presence of shalom, no matter how small the gathering, infuses life and provides a glimpse of the greater feast to come.
This poem wrestles with those dual impulses: to grumble and to praise. Sorrow is never permanent, and joy is never without the echoes of bitter experience. On the one hand, we can hear the voice of the Spirit saying “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” (Psalm 50:23). On the other we hear the diaspora cry out, “By the waters of Babylon, we lay down and wept” (Psalm 137:1). For like those heroic Jews in exile, celebrating the Passover in a pagan land, setting their faces toward Jerusalem as they slaughtered the paschal lamb, so we all are pilgrims in exile, awaiting our heavenly home.
A British Thanksgiving
is not what you’d expect:
no crowded placemats,
no children nipping at your food,
no boxed ears, nor arguments at table.
lacks the pilgrim feel of yore,
but trades one conquest for another—
or maybe we criticize too harshly,
judging a generation by its supposed betters.
returns the sacred fowl
and grandma’s dressed stuffing
for purple taters from the Farmer’s Market
and a roast chicken from Sainsbury.
delays for want of things most needful,
aborted till we make a second walk
to Lupe Pintos for an American can
of pumpkin and a case of A&W.
goes quiet after prayer
without the worry of whose family
we must navigate this year—
a wishbone’s hope half granted.
preludes Christmas out of season,
sharing a peppermint latte outside Starbucks
and watching fireworks spark the Festival,
thankful for the silence of ingratitude.