I recall last year trying to write an entry about giving thanks. I thought I’d posted it, and I find I had the same issue then as I have now – I can’t seem to quite find what I want to say.
Like the silly cultural tradition of the new year’s resolution, we in america, at least (does anyone outside the US practice something like this? I don’t know) take one day of the year to ‘give thanks’.
This, like christmas, is ostensibly a religious celebration. The act of giving thanks is in fact, thanking your chosen deity for whatever you have.
It’s the funny dichotomy of american culture; we were founded in many ways by religious pariahs, zealots who fled home country rarther than assimilate into a less-devoute population. So much of the very core of american culture is, still, puritan and deeply god-fearing. The notion of the first thanksgiving is one of a feast held to honor god for providing.
Yet, we are also the nation that has Separation of Church and State written into the most basic foundation of our culture, the constitution.
Thus we have Thanksgiving and Christmas days as national holidays, yet we’re not able to call it christmas in school anymore, we have to refer to ‘winter holidays’.
I’m not a christian. In any way. I’ve talked about it before – my atheist upbringing, my lack of any faith or spirituality. I celebrate these holidays as cultural tradition, not as spiritual or religious festival. Yet they’re important to me in a deep and fundamental way. I love the holiday traditions. I love christmas music, lights, tinsel. I love the fall colors, the traditions of ballgames and parades. These are my culture as an american. Dress up and decoration, songs and games, friends and family. Tribe.
But I also know what lies under it all. Deeper than western cultural traditions, deeper than christian gods.
These things lie in the roots of humanity. The solstice, the harvest, rites of spring, high summer fests. Back before any god we can even give a name to today was invented and worshipped, people gathered in caves, in fields, around fires. They ate, drank, celebrated. They tried, in simple, foolish, primitive ways, to influence the universe. They sought fertility, the tried to call the sun back when it seemed gone. They thanked fortuitous gods, begged favor of those deemed angry. Celebration, and offerings.
Every single seasonal holiday we practice today goes back to those days, those traditions. Ancient beyond measure before christ or allah or yahweh or buddha.
So what does one do when one does not believe in a divine provider? Because the bounty on our tables today – the absurdly vast turkey, breads and vegetables, fruits and sugar-sweets, wines and ciders, they come not from a god. They were farmed and raised and killed by men, bought with the dollars we spend our days working to earn. What I place on my table, I worked for. What my friends serve to me today, they worked for, writing software, designing computers, treating ailments of the heart and soul, moving numbers around.
What do we do, those of us who are providers?
In many ways it’s a hollow, empty holiday. It’s a feast of excess; the sins my culture considers acceptable. Sloth and Glutton. We cook far, far too much, buy too much, and consume until we all want to vomit. We celebrate those acceptable sins.
Where are my sins? Where is the celebration of Lust and Anger?
I’ve tried to find personal meaning in the tradition of giving thanks. In the way that christmas is, to me, a celebration of love, a time to think about the people in your life who have true meaning, a time to show and speak of love, thanksgiving should be about some such action, thanking those who’ve helped, those who have brought value, those who provide. Those who enrich my life by being in it, in whatever way.
I can’t seem to find it. Harvest has no meaning; suburban born and raised, in california where seasons mean that my favorite vegetables cost more or less, not that they’re available. Where we can fly in lamb or mussels from the other end of the globe when they’re not in local season.
And so, this holiday is a festival of festival. It’s a day to feast for the sake of feasting.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s mixed together with the fact that my birthday is at the ass-end of November, and by quirks of our calendar falls from time to time on thanksgiving day. Maybe it’s the melancholy I feel as an adult, remembering what birthday meant as a child. This time of year I always feel a vague sense of nostalgic sadness.
This has been a very bad year. For a host of reasons I won’t even begin to describe, it has been a year I can’t wait to put behind me. 2004 was a glorious year, filled with energy and love and friendship. 2005 was it’s dark counterpart, and even as my life begins to settle down, there is a ball of anger and stress and pain in the pit of my soul. So perhaps it’s a difficult time to to think of giving thanks. Yet still, I should be able to find meaning in this day.