Thanksgiving. That lovely holiday, with the family gathered around the table. Soft music plays in the background, snow gently falls outside. Dad is carving the succulent turkey while the children sit quietly in their seats, mouths watering. The conversation circles the table as each person describes the many things they have been thankful for this past year.
Thanksgiving, that hectic holiday. Mom is trying to gather the family, put the final touches on the dinner, pour the drinks, and carve the turkey, all at the same time. At one end of the table, Aunt Mattie is well into yet another stomach-turning description of her recent root canal. At the other end, Uncle Milt has clearly imbibed too much eggnog. Grandpa is complaining that the pouring rain is making his rheumatism flare up. The eight-year-old twins are poking one another with their forks and fighting over who will get the drumsticks, while the football game blares from the TV in the next room. No one has seen Dad in the several years since he ran off with that floozy account manager.
While we all dream of a perfect holiday, reality rarely meets our expectations. We’ve all experienced a year when everyone has a bad cold or the flu. A couple of Christmases ago, Pete spent the afternoon and evening in the ER with my dad while the rest of us tried in vain to enjoy the Christmas dinner I’d prepared.
It doesn’t have to be illness. A friend of mine bought a last-minute frozen turkey and then tried to defrost it on Thanksgiving Day. When it became clear that this wasn’t going to work, he put it in the oven and cranked the temperature way up. (Note: I do not recommend doing this. Go to Denny’s if you have to.) Unfortunately for the turkey, the oven was self-cleaning. And when self-cleaning ovens get very hot, what happens? Right… the door locks. Let’s just say the turkey was very clean when the oven finally cooled enough for the cremated remains to be extracted.
Another friend tried to defrost her still-frozen turkey in the dishwasher. I’ll give her bonus points for creativity. At least she didn’t add detergent. And in case you’re wondering, that didn’t work either. Oh, it defrosted the outside just fine, but the inside was still too frozen to roast that day.
If everyone stays healthy, and you manage to get the food just right, there is still plenty that can go wrong. For instance, Thanksgiving usually involves some relatives. Not everyone is blessed with the wonderful family I married into, and even if you generally like your relatives, having everyone together can lead to some unexpected revelations. I had this aunt who… never mind. I’m sure you’re already thinking of someone in your own family.
With all the hype our culture piles onto the holidays, we’re bound to feel let down no matter how they actually turn out. I don’t deal well with disappointment, so I go to great lengths to avoid the pressure for perfection. One thing that helps a lot is to decide what really matters, and let the rest go.
Celebrating Thanksgiving as a special day isn’t in the Bible. Rather, we’re to always be thankful for all God does for us. Eating a big turkey dinner isn’t in the Bible either, so we can decide for ourselves what’s important and what isn’t.
In our case, we try hard to focus on the thankful part. Yes, I enjoy cooking, and enjoy even more eating, that turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie. But if the dinner didn’t happen, I could be just as thankful eating hamburgers or spaghetti.
Family togetherness is also something we value, but it’s OK if it happens another day instead. One year Pete was in India for a conference (India doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, of course) and our younger daughter flew to California to visit our older daughter, leaving me home alone with my Dad. Yes, I missed them all. But it worked out. Instead of having to do all the cleaning and cooking, I got to be a guest in someone else’s home. I saw my family a few weeks later, and appreciated them all the more for their absence.
The hardest part is dealing with family members who are no longer living. My mom passed away fifteen years ago, and I’m sure my dad struggles every year, missing her and wishing they could be together. That’s when we need to be thankful for the time we did have together, and even more thankful that God offers us eternal life with Him.
No matter what life dishes out, our hope is in heaven, and “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)