The Art Of Thankgiving: the good, the bad, and the hungry

In less than a week, we will all be preparing to tie on our feed sacks and gather ’round the family table in recognition of the “alleged” Thanksgiving meal (so often depicted as the first meal shared between Indians and Pilgrims) In recent years this time-honored tradition of gorging and watching football on television has been replaced with online shopping, work shifts, a Starbucks treat up the road, a catered meal at a favorite restaurant, and blah, blah, blah. Truth be told, Thanksgiving has become, for many of us, an obligatory meal (and, I argue, an entire day) wherein we gorge ourselves on foods we may not necessarily like from farms and factories we know nothing about. We spend money we don’t have traveling to locations we don’t presumably care about where we can gather with our tolerated loved ones for a day that movies seem to be made of.

My own family has developed a lovely tradition based more around our own small home, making a few crafts and watching the Macy’s Day parade, eating a feast of Lobster and crab from the Atlantic Ocean (just minutes away from us) polished off by apple deserts. We make a point to talk about what we’re thankful for, why we’re thankful for it, and what we hope to gain from the upcoming Christmas holiday season. It is a low key and frugal way of celebrating the day and truthfully, we like it that way! It is hard though, I will admit. With a seven-year-old daughter who has already plunged into the deep end of Christmas gifts and who isn’t much concerned with what “market price” means, it is easy to wade right in with her. So how then do we apply “frugality” to Thanksgiving? How can we break bread without breaking bank?

STAY AT HOME

The most memorable (and by memorable I mean worth remembering or easily remembered, especially because of being special or unusual) Thanksgiving for me doesn’t even involve my biological family. I was living in Savannah, GA just after Y2K, surrounded by dear friends, all of whom were from different parts of the world. None of us could really afford to head home for the holidays and we certainly couldn’t get the days off to do so. So, we had an “Orphans Day of Thanks.” We met up at an agreed upon apartment and spent time laughing and loving. Prior to the occasion, I let my bio family know that while I wouldn’t be with them I would be with family indeed and that I looked forward to seeing them at Christmas. I was so thankful to have such wonderful friends to share an awesome meal with.

Through the years I have enjoyed a few years where I didn’t participate in the Odom Thanksgiving and instead enjoyed the freedom to celebrate however I wanted. I have volunteered at a shelter. I have had Chinese food in front of the television. I have done anything but lock myself in a plane or a car in uncomfortable clothes, dealing with cheap wine, drunk relatives, overblown political conversations, and in some cases, unresolved family matters.

DOWNSIZE IT

Minimalism is about limiting the size of things and using/owning only what you need. So to invoke the main principles of Thanksgiving why not think about how many people your home can comfortably seat? Keep your guest list short and manageable. Don’t supersize. DOWNSIZE!

If I may look back at the “Orphans…” meal we reduced stress by making it a potluck style gathering. Everyone gives and therefore everyone receives! With no one person having to feel the brunt of the day it frees everyone up to enjoy the day.

COOK FOR JUST THE DAY

As Americans we have a legacy of overpreparing; overcooking. We like to think that at any time an army could march through town, demand our home from us, and then make us feed them. But when you are talking about Thanksgiving and not the second Civil War, it is unlikely you will have to host Sherman and his troops. There is no compelling reason to cook a week’s worth of food for just one meal. No one grew an appetite labeled “turkey day stomach” overnight. Your family will eat only the amount they do every other day of the week.

A good idea is to focus on quality and not quantity. Instead of fixing cranberry sauce, mustard greens, rolls, mashed potatoes, etc., try asking each guest what their favorite dish is and then basing the meal off that. You’ll have all the favorites without being overwhelmed by a gluttonous feast.

DO GIVE THANKS

We have all enjoyed the construction paper turkeys made of handprints, the folded newspaper pilgrim hats, and the Indian headbands that have become stalwarts of this “sacred” American holiday. Heck, we made those just last year! Thanksgiving has become a day in which even the most stoic of us bows a thankful head and honestly, the further our nation falls from grace, if you will, we still have an incredible amount to be thankful for! So please do spend the day in thanksgiving. That is a no-brainer!

This year try asking a neighbor who may not have a family to join yours for the meal. Then be sure to thank them for sharing their time and their friendship with you and your family. Spend a few hours volunteering at a shelter you agree with and believe in. Take a pie or some canned goods to a family who may not be even as fortunate as you. Do it all with a thankful heart knowing that no one truly wishes to be in a less fortunate situation. Give thanks that you are able to help another human being and show them the love they may not see anywhere else.

Better yet, start a new tradition. Some families use Thanksgiving as a sort of experimental holiday in which custom no longer rules but innovation does. As you get older and your family grows up, there is no rule that says you must have the typical Thanksgiving. Allow your family to show how it gives thanks and then apply that idea. As a family, we are thankful for heat and for the warmth provided in our house. So in the evening, as the sun sets, we build a fire outside and just sit around talking, laughing, and even singing a few songs! Whatever you and yours decide to do, look beyond just the superficial tones of the day and really find the heart and soul of the day for yourself.

BUY NOTHING

Like me, you may also follow a simple plan for life that involves elements of minimalism. I do so partially in response to what I see in our culture as a steady diet of over-consumption. With that in mind, use this time of year to join in with others who have decided to express their desires of anti-consumerism by not doing any shopping on Black Friday (which walks hand-in-hand) with Thanksgiving now.

Buy Nothing Day started in 1992 and has become an “international day of protest against consumerism.” It is a day of unshopping and unwinding. For those of us living intentionally frugal lives, participating in a day opposed to frenzied spending isn’t just about changing your habits for one day but about starting a lasting lifestyle commitment to consuming less and producing less waste. You don’t have to protest in front of the doors at Target or do anything crazy like uninstalling the Amazon app. Just make the commitment to buy nothing the day after Thanksgiving and instead be thankful for what you already enjoy.

There is no doubt about it. Thanksgiving is a beautiful day. It is a beautiful sentiment. And yes, it can become as muddled and cynical as anything else. But there are as many ways to enjoy it as their are people to enjoy it with. So whatever you do or however you choose to celebrate, do so in a manner that keeps the holiday at the forefront and hones in the things that give the day the greatest meaning to your life.

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