When I was a child I saw Thanksgiving as the great unifier. There were always other families around us in which the kids grew up with different beliefs and different ways of life. The list of religious school holidays was so long and varied – these kids get off of school on this day, those kids on that day – that it all came to seem, in my young mind, like some sort of elaborate joke.
But Thanksgiving was different. Just who we were giving thanks to was presented vaguely enough that you didn’t actually need to invoke any particular religion or deity – you could just go home and enjoy spending time with your family. You would eat a big meal cooked by your mom, and you knew that all of your friends, whatever their religion or background, were doing exactly the same thing. To me it was this inter-cultural solidarity, the sense of joining hands across subcultures, that was the most comforting aspect of the whole ritual.
This year I find myself reaching across a divide within Thanksgiving itself. I spent the entire morning today cooking various vegan dishes, which I brought to my mom’s house. Yes, there were non-vegan dishes there as well, but I was very touched by the mutual respect with which everyone approached this particular cultural divide. Because I was there, my sister made yummy dark-chocolate vegan brownies, awesome fresh vegan rolls, and delicious vegan potato and sweet potato latkes that were just to die for.
I think back upon that very first Thanksgiving, when the harvest for the new settlers to these shores consisted of beans, corn, squash and garden vegetables – the foods for which those pilgrims originally gave thanks. It feels good to realize that my family is so gracious in joining me to make room for these old ways of celebrating the bounty of the earth.