I sat here in front of a blank page for a while wanting to write something but couldn’t get started. The season brings many memories, most with warm and loving feelings. From our earliest days in Brooklyn to most recent holidays in Florida so much has changed around us. The family has grown and spread out around the country. Last year we spoke about having one big family holiday like the old days at some midpoint probably on the East Coast. It’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s still a work in progress. We gather in smaller groups, now. Some of us have become part of other families while others create new traditions with friends.
As I reflect back through the years, I think of the faces at the table that have come and gone; friends who’ve moved away, partners that didn’t network out, loved ones who have passed. I am amused thinking how the contents of our table have changed through the years as well. Often persons who join us being a part of their traditions. Through the years we’ve added things like homemade stuffing, collard greens, sweet potato casserole with pecan toppings from the South; kremsnita, a phyllo cheese pie from Croatia, or yucca marinated with onions, olive oil, and vinegar, common in the Carribean.
Thanksgiving was not a tradition in Puerto Rico for my parents growing up in the 1930s and 40s, but I remember in Brooklyn in the 1960s we celebrated it every year with my cousins, aunts, and uncles. Our parents blended their traditional foods and flavors with what was usual holiday food in the NorthEast. Growing up we would have a roasted turkey prepared with a rub of garlic, salt, and oregano; it was the same type of seasoning Puerto Ricans traditionally used for roast pork during the holidays and special occasions. We had baked sweet potatoes or yams and guineitos en escabeche; pickled green bananas that were marinated days before. These were served alongside a dish called arroz con gandules; it’s like a paella, prepared in one pot with pigeon peas, peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro, and tomatoes or tomato sauce. My mother loved to cook and often made pumpkin pie, flan, and Pillsbury sugar cookies.
All the years of memories tend to blend together, and in my recollection, I remember our faith practice of gratitude and singing; in old photographs, I see dancing. I distinctly remember lots of laughing and warm smiles. My mother had started experiencing symptoms of her illness, and my dad took to drinking every day after work and yet, I remember feeling safe and loved. With all their personal struggles, they made us, their children, a priority. For that alone, I am eternally grateful. I think that supportive foundation helped me tackle a lot of challenges throughout the years.
It was that feeling of love and security that I wanted to re-create for our kids. My siblings and I did. My daughters and their cousins remember the holidays with the same nostalgia. They want to pass on the same love, laughter to their own children. Thankfully, as the family grows, they have added new traditions along the way.
Today as I contemplate the holiday season, I wonder why Thanksgiving is not a more important holiday in this country. Of all the holidays, I think Thanksgiving can serve to unite us as a nation. Many cultures and religions practice gratitude. From earlier times people have celebrated a good harvest giving thanks to a higher power. Even folks who are not “religious” recognize that living in gratitude and being appreciative is to be in a good state of mind. One would think that given the emphasis that our leaders place on God’slaws and God’s rules, that they could agree to celebrate gratitude with more enthusiasm. Giving thanks seems to be a common denominator, even if you are a humanist you can be grateful for your particular abilities and achievements.
Perhaps someone’s White House can one day hold a service and invite religious and secular leaders of diverse groups to a Thanksgiving dinner. There is something about literally breaking bread together that unites people and overcomes barriers. I know it’s not even remotely on the agenda for this administration but its something to consider for the future. I understand that similar activities have been attempted at different times without success, falling apart at party lines, but I am sitting here living in the moment during a season of hope and so I continue to believe in our democracy.
I am mindful that not everyone feels the same during this season, perhaps some can’t find anything to be grateful for, not past or present. Itis actually very common to feel sad and alone especially during this holiday season. I would encourage my readers to open your eyes, look around and reach out to a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker and perhaps invite someone to join you. My family has never had excessive material wealth, but there has always been room at the table for one more. To those who may get an invitation, don’t turn it down. Its never too late to make a pleasant memory.
I am thankful that you stopped by today. Peace be with you.