You'll notice I said fellowship instead of family. It's a more inclusive term, and I love that Thanksgiving is a holiday where families are actively encouraged to include others in their celebrations. The holiday just doesn't seem right unless you've got a stranger or two in the house, whether it's someone from work who's away from their own family or just a random out-of-towner. True, the best of families include others in all of their holiday celebrations, but Thanksgiving seems to lack most of the procedural whatnot that precludes mere fellowship.
And so there's none of the gift-giving, egg-rolling romanticism that cranks up the stress factor of other holidays. Thanksgiving largely lacks the ceremonial trappings that can clog up other dates on the calendar. You don't have to decorate your house or dress up in a costume and wait dutifully at your front door for gangs of children to come begging. There are no firecrackers or uprooted, dying trees.
On Thanksgiving, you just gather into a group and enjoy the food and each other's company. Besides the logistical considerations, that's basically it. Sure, if you're so inclined, you can have someone utter some kind of prayer before you dig into the fixings, but the communal meal, not the ceremony, is the point. Bathed in these comforts, we become appropriately grateful for our blessings. No formal liturgy needed.
And the largely informal nature of the Thanksgiving gathering is why this holiday never works if you decide to gather at a restaurant. There's an impersonality that comes from being in a commercial setting that, I feel, detracts from the essential Thanksgiving spirit. Of course, in a restaurant, someone else gets to do the dishes. But, stuck in the chairs you've been assigned by the hostess, you can't flop onto the couch next to an old relative or a new friend and start swapping stories. What you gain in convenience, you lose in communion.
Plus, have I mentioned the food? I absolutely love the cuisine associated with Thanksgiving: the turkey and ham, the stuffings and side dishes, the gravy and the dessert -- not to mention all the snacks and drinks! I have been known to eat a dozen deviled eggs within the first hour of a Thanksgiving gathering. Strangely, such noshing only serves to excite my appetite rather than to satisfy it. After such feasting, I've also been known to chug a half-pot of coffee just to keep my eyes open for the after-dinner drive home.
And finally, there's the football, which, along with tennis, is my favorite spectator sport. And the proper way to enjoy Thanksgiving NFL games is in someone's house, with many people gathered around, creating lots of extraneous chatter, filled with anecdotes and differing opinions and conflicting loyalties, all playfully mingling in one's ears as overcompensated men in pads & helmets smash into each other.
This Thanksgiving, I'll be celebrating in the house of a family that's adopted me. There will be 4 generations present under a single roof, with enough food to feed thrice our number. My way of saying thanks will be to walk around and talk to every single person there, eat myself silly, enjoy some football, and then help with the dirty dishes as penance for the way I've stuffed my gullet.
Sounds like the perfect holiday, doesn't it?