Garner: Opinion

Column: Thursday marks the most All-American of holidays

By Johnny Whitfield

Johnny Whitfield
Johnny Whitfield ehyman@newsobserver.com

This Thursday we celebrate the most All-American of holidays. I can think over no other holiday quite as filled with Americana as Thanksgiving.

Oh sure, we have Independence Day, but most other countries have their own holidays celebrating their founding as well, so in that sense, our Independence Day is not that unique.

But Thanksgiving. Oh my. If you think about it, Thanksgiving is a celebration of friendship. That’s what the pilgrims and the Native Americans celebrated that first Thanksgiving. Today, we think more in terms of celebrating the things we are thankful for. Surely friends are on that list.

Our Thanksgiving has turned into a much broader opportunity to be thankful for everything from our health and jobs to our family and possessions. And, unlike many other holidays (I’m looking at you, Christmas) it hasn’t become overly commercialized. Unless you count everyone’s desire for a big meal on Thanksgiving Day, the celebrations of the holiday are mostly about simply gathering with friends and family.

Our family will have a turkey on the table and we will also have ham. Growing up in a family that raised hogs, I can’t imagine not having a pork product on the table. Plenty of us will take on more than one slice of turkey, but for my money, I’ll be digging into the ham from the beginning of the meal to the end.

I’ve always heard about the impact of tryptophan on people who eat a big meal like the Thanksgiving spread and how it makes a person sleepy. For most of my life, that just seemed like so much mumbo-jumbo, but as I age, I find myself taking a nap not too long after the big meal, despite the fact that football is on the television and there’s no more compelling TV in the world than a football game in my book.

So Thursday will be filled with all the things I love: food, family, football and sleep. That alone makes Thanksgiving arguably one of the best holidays on the calendar.

I also expect to spend at least some time thinking about what I’m thankful for: a good, hardworking staff, a decent house in which to live, a wife who loves me and tolerates my many shortcomings and children who have largely taken the right path so far in life and mostly appreciate what their parents have done for them.

More importantly, I think, I will spend some time considering those folks who can’t put together such a list. For them, Thursday will be just another day. For them, there won’t be a meal any different than the one the day before. For them, there won’t be any additional family walking through the front door. For them, football will be the least of their interests.

I will spend time thinking about how we can improve their lot in life and, yes, I know that can be a testy subject. It’s the whole “hand-up vs. hand-out” debate. Should we help people who are down on their luck? Absolutely. Should we work to ensure that largesse is not abused? Certainly. And how does one person really make an impact on what is seriously a large problem?

It could be that we are better off biting off small pieces – working with one person or family to help them. Or perhaps there is an effort already underway to help lots of people which that single person can join to become part of the large solution.

Regardless of how it plays out, our communities would be better places if everyone spent a few minutes considering what they really are thankful for, then looked for ways to help those who can’t be thankful for the same things because it’s beyond their means.

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