What Makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving?

Last year for Thanksgiving Day I was in New Zealand. I’ve had a number of New Zealand Thanksgivings through the years. I remember searching the grocery store for canned cranberry sauce last year ‑ my contribution to the Thanksgiving feast. I finally had to break down and ask where it was, but I was thankful that they had some.

The reason is that Thanksgiving in New Zealand is a different experience. Obviously, the fourth Thursday of November in New Zealand is a normal work day. The Americans gather on a Saturday to have our Thanksgiving. Not everything we may be accustomed to is easily found. For example, turkey is too expensive, so it is usually chicken.

One year David and Mary Nelson searched the stores for Karo syrup for pecan pies to no avail. Mary decided to use Blackstrap molasses as a substitute. I won’t say that the pie was bad, but through the years that pie has been better as an amusing anecdote than it was to eat. That was followed by my tip to New Zealand when I carried Karo syrup in my checked luggage. It was interesting explaining to New Zealand customs what Karo syrup is. I think my suitcase also had some French fried onions for the green bean casserole too.

David always has a video of a Dallas Cowboys football game sent from the states by his brother-in-law. Watching it may include comments from New Zealanders like, “American football sure is slow — not like rugby.”

What makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving? A few ingredients seem to be essential. First, we gather with family and friends even when we “adopt” family on foreign soil. Our table has often included those who are not our biological family, but are family none the less.

Second, we make wonderful memories. I suspect our traditional foods are one of those ways. Listen to people planning a Thanksgiving meal as they try to decide what are the non-negotiable items — the things you must prepare. It usually has to do with our memories of the past. It has to do with our traditions that link us with family. You may have other ways of making memories for that day — festive table cloths and candles on the table to football games in the afternoon.

Third, and most important of all, we thank God for our blessings. I have no patience for definitions of Thanksgiving Day that only say it is a day for celebrating the harvest. For me, it is a day “to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God” as in the words of George Washington from 1789.

But for you, what makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving?

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