Ever since my freshman year of high school, when I finally got over my Halloween obsession, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday. I never thought about why until a friend recently asked, “What’s so great about Thanksgiving? It’s just a day when everyone eats a bunch of unhealthy food.” This point of view prompted a desire to come to Thanksgiving’s defense, because, for me, the day is so much more than an excuse to load up on carbs. So, here are nine reasons I think the fourth Thursday in November is worth getting excited about.
America — Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays. Everyone can celebrate it regardless of religion, ethnicity or race. President Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday in 1863, during the Civil War, as way to bring the country together. Today it represents some of what’s best about America, things that have historically made the United States a place where immigrants long to come and for which soldiers are willing to die. Things like being grateful for the fruits of our labors, charity toward the less fortunate, respect for tradition, and a willingness to set aside our differences and love one another.
Cooking Shows — The only thing better than watching a good cooking show on a lazy Saturday afternoon is watching a good Thanksgiving cooking show on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I’m not afraid to admit that I learned how to carve a turkey by paying close attention to Wolfgang Puck’s typically Austrian, highly detailed instructions on some show or another. And don’t even get me started about Martha Stewart or Jacques Pépin. Just thinking about them makes me want to start making piecrusts.
Decorating — I love fall decorations. As a kid, one of my favorite elementary school holiday assignments was being asked to color a Thanksgiving horn of plenty. Today, often as early as mid-October, I can be found at local farm stands hunting down various types of gourds, pumpkins and dried Indian corn to decorate my Thanksgiving table.
Family & Friends — Thanksgiving is one of the best holidays to spend time with people we don’t see very often, because there’s nothing to do but sit around and eat and drink and talk. I also like that I get to spend extra time with people I see often but don’t get to talk to as much as I’d like.
Movies — Each year we watch two Thanksgiving-themed movies during the week before the holiday: John Hughes’ heartwarming and hilarious 1987 film, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” starring Steve Martin and the late John Candy, and, perhaps one of my favorite movies of all time, Jodie Foster’s 1995 masterpiece, “Home For the Holidays,” starring Holly Hunter and Robert Downey Jr.
Music — My favorite hymn is “Old Hundredth,” named after the 100th Psalm. I love it so much, in fact, that my husband gave me the framed sheet music as a Christmas gift one year. Some historians believe this hymn was sung by the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving in 1621, so you hear it often at Thanksgiving church services. I grew up singing it, and there are few things that make me feel as thankful as having the opportunity to hear it.
November — Crisp mornings; cool, windy afternoons; swirling snow; dramatic gray skies: The drama and mystery of November is something I look forward to each year. Few things are nicer than getting up early on Thanksgiving morning — when the whole world seems enveloped in quiet — and taking an unhurried walk amid the sculpture of bare branches and the swirling of dry leaves.
Traditions — I’ve always loved learning about and participating in the Thanksgiving traditions enjoyed by other families, especially when it comes to food. I’ve eaten Cuban-style turkey in Tampa, Fla., along with Key lime pie instead of apple or pumpkin, and drunk Colonial-style hot cider with rum in Vermont. My friend Annette can’t have Thanksgiving without chocolate pudding pie, and her husband, Jason, still makes the tiny cheeseburgers called “sputniks” that his family served every year as appetizers when he was growing up. The best thing about these varied traditions is that over the years we have incorporated many of them into our own Thanksgiving spread.
Turkey — I’m always surprised when someone tells me they don’t like turkey. I mean, I know vegetarians who make a once-a-year dietary exception so they can eat turkey on Thanksgiving. The wonderful aroma of a roasting turkey, especially if we are hosting, is one of the best things about the holiday. Also: leftovers. We’ve actually been known to cook a second turkey the day after Thanksgiving just so we can have more of them.
Emilie’s new novel for middle graders, “The Blue Bottle,” is available at North Country Press. Order it here.
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Top photo by Emily O’Brien Photography