It is the week leading up to Thanksgiving. Sales are everywhere. Black Friday advertisements are touted on every television set in the nation. Any newcomer to the American culture might easily be deceived into thinking the national holiday we celebrate every year is really a great marketing tool to kick off the Christmas holiday gift-buying season. Endless conversations about the best Thanksgiving appetizer, the best Thanksgiving pie recipe, and how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey to golden perfection might induce an outside observer to think cooking the best meal is the focus of the holiday, but for our family, it is so much more.
Growing up in Hong Kong, and attending British schools, it was not customary to have a day off for Thanksgiving, a purely American celebration and just a bit too much anti-British for the Hong Kong folk, if you think of how Thanksgiving came to be celebrated in the first place.
My parents were religious about school attendance. By religious I mean you had to have a verifiable medical condition to miss school. But on this day of feasting, my parents set aside their focus on schooling and instead instilled in us the importance of religiously celebrating Thanksgiving. My parents love for Scripture laid a solid foundation for how my family celebrates Thanksgiving today.
Today, as a mother of 5 children, I am grateful that my parents prioritized this 'holiday' (read holy day). I am thankful to have been schooled in the art of preparing a Thanksgiving meal, sharing the bounty of the season in all its forms, and presenting the generosity of this American tradition to friends and family not raised in the land of the free.
Growing up outside of the land we called home caused me to create views and ideals of what life in the states ought to be. My ideals were formed around the ways we celebrated traditional holidays as a family in Hong Kong. I wrongly assumed we were doing what all Americans do for Thanksgiving. I was shocked and dismayed to learn that most American homes do not have a clue what to do on Thanksgiving. So, let me enlighten you, in case you didn't have the privilege of experiencing a true Crutchfield Thanksgiving.
My mom allowed us the day off school - which was cause for great celebration until we realized we were not off for relaxation, but for WORK. And work we did - from morning 'til late afternoon - peeling apples, chopping celery, washing pots and pans, setting tables, making place cards, going over our memorization and/or piano pieces one last time. We were definitely not thrilled to be working on our day off, but we all felt a keen sense of anticipation.
Once everything was in place, and maybe a little before, the guests began to arrive. The guests were intentionally chosen from all over the world - Australian, Canadian, British, Chinese, Filipino, Dutch, and a whole slew of other nations. One by one, these friends would come and marvel and share this new experience of a traditional American Thanksgiving.
Once we all sat at the table and bowed for prayer, the feast began, and we tucked into the scrumptious meal. When I say the meal was scrumptious, it's probably an understatement. My mother would qualify for a gourmet cook. We never had just one Thanksgiving pie, we usually had at least three - apple, pecan, and pumpkin. And cool whip? Noooo way - only fresh whipped cream would do.
After the meal had been thoroughly enjoyed, we all gathered in the living room. Now came what made Thanksgiving real. The first order of business was to share the story of the very first Thanksgiving. This honor was bestowed on a family member ahead of time to allow time for preparation. The story could be as simple as told by a five-year-old or as detailed and embellished as told by grandparents. Children listened with rapt attention, adults marveled at the harsh experiences of the first settlers, and all wondered at the joy of shared community and shared meals between people of different cultures. Often there was a quiet reflection of how our lives are so easy compared to those of the settlers - and yet we so often complain.
After the story-telling concluded, we would go around one by one and share whatever we were thankful for in the past year. Everyone would get the chance to examine the last 365 days: the lessons learned, struggles faced, losses felt, gains acquired, and blessings lavished upon their lives and families. Then one by one everyone would voice their gratitude to the Almighty. Mom would intersperse some homemade entertainment between the often intense moments of reflection by prompting one of the children to perform a piece of piano music, poetry, prose, Scripture memory, or song we had been working on. We loved to take part in celebrating Thanksgiving in this way.
For more ideas, check out last year's article "3 Tips to Help Your Children Develop Gratitude"!
Now, doesn't that sound better than binge eating and watching sports on TV? Sharing memories, being present in the moment, investing in creating lasting relationships, and sharing the bounty of great food, prepared by loving hands, with those we love is what it means to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Share in the comments below how your family spends a real Thanksgiving.
Finally, may the grace, peace, and love of the triune God, protect, defend, and empower you to run with perseverance the race marked out for you until we meet again next year.