I woke up one day this week thinking a pretty strange thought: This year marks my mother’s 70th Thanksgiving. That means she’s eaten turkey dinner 69 times so far and Nov. 27 will mark her 70th experience. That’s a lot of turkey drumsticks, Ma!
But, seriously, my mom loves Thanksgiving. She may not love all the preparatory work involved, but she genuinely loves “all the trimmings” that accompany this special holiday.
Part of the experience of Thanksgiving she enjoys and has cultivated in her children and grandchildren is something that’s sadly not emphasized in popular culture enough: Giving thanks. When she started her own family, she made sure her kids knew that Thanksgiving was more than eating pie and turkey, that the real meaning of Thanksgiving meant taking a few minutes to thank God for their blessings.
To that end, during the Thanksgiving meal, she instituted a scroll-like ledger that we pull from a drawer in the sideboard each Thanksgiving Day. In it, we record three things for which each person at the table is thankful during the past year. Only those gathered at my mom’s house on Thanksgiving can sign the “Thanksgiving Ledger,” which looks like a rolled up scroll with a fancy design on the flap and a fancier ribbon holding it together.
It’s tradition to go around the table between dinner and dessert and ask family members what they are thankful for. Since I have some experience in journalism, I’m usually the scribe, recording as neatly as possible each person’s three gratitudes. When it comes to my turn, I hand the scroll to the oldest child present and he or she carefully jots down my “Top Three.”
So what do we usually list? Among his gratitudes, my brother will typically record a family trip he took with his wife and kids the preceding summer. I usually list boring stuff like my job, my car and my house. (My car is a clunker and I’m amazed and thankful that it still runs year after year.) My sister will usually list her kids and husband as things for which she is thankful. And my mom will usually list her health and grandchildren.
Although it can be a challenge to record accurately, it’s fun when we get around to the kids and their top three gratitudes. It can range from a favorite game they enjoy or a best friend, or something off-the-wall. Most of the kids will say they are thankful for their parents, too. (Sad but true, no one has yet said they are thankful for their Uncle John. Awww, such ingrates!)
Seriously though, it’s a nice tradition we started almost 10 years ago. It provides a focal point, other than the meal. At Christmas, we have a big, fancy breakfast (some sort of doughy frittata including eggs, bacon and cheese) and then we open presents. So, rather than a gift exchange, we do “the scroll” at Thanksgiving. And after we’re done being thankful, we’re never tired like we are after opening presents. The act of giving thanks and writing it down so we have a record is sort of uplifting. It reminds you of the original purpose of Thanksgiving and prevents you from taking things in your life for granted. We all feel a little better after writing down our “thankful thoughts.”
Granted, being thankful for what we have will take a little more work this year. With all the conflict going on in seemingly every deep, dark, scary corner of society, it might sound daunting to come up with three things for which to be thankful. But, if you try, you’ll surprise yourself that it’s really not that hard. They say happiness is relative, and while you might not have as much money in your 401K as you did at this time last year, money isn’t everything, but the people sitting around your Thanksgiving table are.
So, this Thanksgiving, or while eating your leftovers on Friday, start a new tradition. Get a really long sheet of paper (or a roll of shelf-lining paper as we use) and make yourself a scroll. Write “Thanksgiving Ledger” in some fancy vertical lettering on the end of it and then roll it up. Then after you’ve finished your turkey, mashed potatoes and squash, and of course those lovely creamed onions (yuck!), pick someone who’s a wickid shahp spelah to be the scribe. Hand him or her a nice pen, and you’re set to record for posterity’s sake.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!