At the All World Acres event the weekend of October 29, I had an experience that I wanted to share as appropriate to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, that might provide ideas for how to make this year’s feast even more meaningful than usual.
Mary was scheduled to cook a big dinner for everyone on Saturday night. However, she came down with a migraine headache, and her migraine medication wasn’t working. Richard offered to cancel the dinner, but Mary didn’t want to. She tried to think of something easy for her to do. I offered to help her, to do whatever she directed me to do to get the dinner ready, and we had another volunteer as well, Becky. Neither one of us had any duty or responsibility to help with dinner that night, so neither of us felt compelled to help. We did it out of love for Mary and a desire to help her feel better and make her life easier.
Mary set Becky to peeling a large bowl of potatoes, which I then rinsed and chopped up for mashing. Meanwhile, Mary busied herself getting the main course and vegetables ready. The three of us moved around the kitchen smoothly, each in her own place and busy with her own tasks, but each coordinated and cooperating with the others to create the communal meal. There were some unusual microbrew beers in the fridge, so we each popped one open and sipped while we worked and talked.
The talk drifted from topic to topic, but at one point we were discussing our individual family origins, what we knew about our ancestry and where we came from. It suddenly struck me as a very appropriate topic of conversation for the ritual we were reenacting, and I spoke up, pointing out the ritual aspects of what we were doing. “Here we are,” I said, “cooperating together to create a communal meal, as millions of women have done before us, and our tasks are not so different from what our ancestors, whom we’ve been talking about, would have been doing together.” Sitting (or standing) together in the kitchen, peeling and chopping potatoes, dressing meat for the oven, boiling pots of vegetables and then the potatoes, mashing them up with butter and milk – these were all acts that had been performed countless times in each of our own lives, and innumerable times by the women who have come before us, ideally in much the same spirit of camaraderie and cooperation. (By this time Mary was feeling much better and was even chipper, and enjoying herself. So it was a healing ritual, as well). As the event attendees drifted in for the impending meal, they saw the three of us puttering in the kitchen, busy with our time honored tasks and chatting amiably with each other, and they too, noted similarities to ritual meals they had partaken of in the past – Thanksgiving feasts, where their mother and/or grandmother and one or more aunts would all be circling in the kitchen preparing a large meal for an extended family, much as we were doing, right down to the mashed potatoes. It put them in mind of warm, happy memories, all Thanksgivings sort of blending together into that one archetypal image of the mothers of the family preparing to feed and nourish their clan in a sacred traditional meal.
The reason I recount all this is to illustrate what a marvelous opportunity we have coming up this Thanksgiving, to make ourselves consciously aware of the ritual aspects of what we go through each year at this time. Thanksgiving is always the busiest travel season of the year, bigger even than Christmas. As you make your pilgrimage home (or wherever you will be dining on Thursday), think of it as just that: a sacred journey. You sacrifice time and money, precious energy, and brave danger and stress to be together with family members you may not have seen since last year. Obviously this is an important enough experience to be worth those sacrifices, or you wouldn’t bother; so rather than grumble over the annoyances of traffic and delayed flights, think of such things as the ritual trials the initiate must go through, the demons the hero must conquer on his or her journey to triumph and be rewarded with a hero’s welcome.
As you enter your home (or that of your relatives), consider the sacredness of this site. Remember the memories that have been made here over generations, or if it is a relatively new dwelling, the memories that you and yours have created or intend to create. As you are reunited with each member of your family and greet them, treat them as a god or goddess, priest or priestess, in your particular familial pantheon. Even those family members you don’t like that much or don’t get along with have a role in your life, and you may be able to find one or more archetypes in their personality. Think also of all the different roles that you play to each of them, as well: son or daughter, brother or sister, niece, nephew, cousin, grandchild, aunt or uncle... and do not forget friend, companion, confidant, strong shoulder, sympathetic listener, clown, scholar, current events expert… the list goes on for each of us. Remember too, to take a moment to look at the pictures of family scattered around the home; not just of yourself and living relatives at the key moments of your sacred life path, such as graduations and weddings, but take note of the pictures of your ancestors who have passed before, and take a moment to acknowledge their connection to you and your life: their responsibility for your being here, their contribution to who you are and who you might become (for good or ill), and feel the unbroken bond of life and genetics stretching beyond them into the past, through you, and on into future generations in the children you see around you.
Watch carefully the traditions that are observed -- who takes responsibility for what kitchen task, what foods are part of your particular family’s traditional sacred meal, who always brings the same dish with them as their contribution, what traditional drinks are consumed before, during and after the meal, what music is played year in and year out, what conversations happen over and over again and how they only change slightly from year to year in the details, photo albums and memories that are dusted off and brought out, group activities that are shared that seem to be particular to this specific gathering each year. The list goes on and on, right down to what everybody chooses to wear and that it all must be recorded -- though the technology we use to record these events changes from year to year -- adding pictures and video of this event in your sacred yearly cycle to the pictures and records of all the previous years through generations, becoming part of your family’s sacred book or Book of Life.
Be conscious and aware, take note, appreciate everything, everyone, and every action as sacred, and take responsibility for your role in this year’s ritual -- whatever that might be, even if you are the designated Couch Potato who vegges out all day in front of the TV with a beer in one hand, a remote in the other, and a willingness to yell and scream every time the quarterback of your favorite team fumbles AGAIN! When treated thus, it will be spiritually fulfilling for you and everyone around you, as is the purpose of a ritual. Oh yes, and don’t forget to be thankful! There are few emotions more rewarding than gratitude, and you’ve just become acutely conscious of just how much you have to be grateful for.
Have a blessed, peaceful, warm and safe Thanksgiving holiday.
Dedicated to all my family and extended family of friends, but in particular my sister for her continuing heroic efforts to successfully shepherd her brood over vast distances to double the size of our family gatherings, my Mom for her continuing heroic efforts to feed us all, and my Aunt Nancy, to whom I send best wishes for a speedy recovery and that she is able to spend this holiday at home with her family and not in the hospital.