Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.
One reason is that it is a time for lots of plentiful food on the table.
And time to remember favorite people, now gone.
We lost author Randall Kenan last year. I liked his beautiful writing best when he wrote about food when families came together to celebrate or to mourn.
For instance, he edited “Carolina Table,” a beautiful set of essays about food in the south. In that volume, he wrote about the foods that were served at funerals in his home in Duplin County, specifically what his neighbors brought when his great uncle died. “People showing up heavy-laden with food to the homes of the recently deceased. Hams, fried chicken, oven-baked barbecue chicken, pork chops smothered in gravy, dirty rice, Spanish rice, potato salad galore, slaw, sweet potato casseroles, candied yams, hushpuppies, cornbread, soup, chopped pork barbecue, collard greens, pound cake, chocolate cake, coconut cake, pineapple cake, red velvet cake, sweet potato pie, lemon meringue pie.”
Another author from rural North Carolina who can describe food deliciously is Jason Mott from Columbus County. His latest, “Hell of a Book,” won the National Book Award.
Here is an excerpt from that book in which the parents of a little boy who has hidden himself somewhere in the house try to entice him to reveal himself by cooking his favorite food:
“Before long, the house billowed with the smells and sounds of the boy’s favorite food. The chicken fried in a heavy black skillet and the macaroni bubbled and baked in the oven. There were sugared strawberries, and muscadine grapes, and leftover pound cake that the boy had forgotten was still in the house. Even though he was still hidden, his stomach growled so loudly that he feared it would give him away. But his mother and father didn’t seem to hear and so he was able to continue to sit-even with the hunger in the pit of his stomach-and close his eyes and smell all of the dancing aromas. In that moment, invisible and buried in his parents’ love, he was happier than he had ever been. And soon, in spite of his hunger, he was asleep.”
Our great authors’ descriptions of food remind me how much I love the plentiful delicious food that is prepared and consumed at Thanksgiving.
But there is much more to Thanksgiving than the wonderful food.
What I like even more is the time we still save just for families and friends. There is, of course, competition for that time. Football games, parades, concerts, and films. But we have to struggle to avoid them or figure out some way to blend them into the family program.
We try to honor Thanksgiving’s central theme of the happy ritual of the family meal. It brings back a time when we sat down together more often, serving each other, passing the food, carving the main dish, saying prayers of thanks, and listening to each other’s stories.
Thanksgiving can be our own private family sacrament of remembrance, reunion, renewal of connections, and thankfulness for life’s blessings.
Of course, some will argue that this idea of Thanksgiving is merely a remnant of times past. They say that, like Christmas, Thanksgiving is becoming a time of selfishness and consumption.
If so, it would be a tragedy.
If this is a trend, let’s fight it.
We can start by remembering the original Thanksgiving and how thankful the Pilgrims were for food and shelter, showing us how much more blessed we are than were the Pilgrims.
As long as thankfulness is at the center of our Thanksgiving, its celebration will be a blessing to us.
Attorney D.G. Martin served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s North Carolina Bookwatch.